USD ramps up efforts to improve intergroup relations

University leaders deplore acts of cultural insensitivity

VERMILLION, S.D. – President James W. Abbott says the University of South Dakota will not tolerate insensitive remarks and rude treatment of minority groups on campus, and he is working with campus leaders to teach respect for others at every level.

“I truly believe that our differences are our strength,” Abbott said. “Diversity is an asset that will make USD graduates more competent in a widening global marketplace.”

Abbott joined the co-chairs of the USD President’s Council on Diversity & Inclusiveness to issue the following statement on Tuesday:

“The University of South Dakota supports an inclusive learning environment where diversity and individual differences are understood, respected, appreciated, and recognized as a source of strength.”

The statement was issued after the Council met to hear from student Alexis Oskolkoff, who said students on a float at the Oct. 5 homecoming parade taunted her and her 9-year-old son for wearing their tribal dance regalia.

Co-chairs of the President’s Council, Dr. Beth Boyd and Dr. Jerry Yutrzenka, said “This unfortunate incident hurts all of us at USD and does not reflect who we are as a campus community. We envision a campus committed to Inclusive Excellence, where students, staff, and faculty know that acts of insensitivity toward any of us are not OK. When such things do occur, we can all speak out, take action, support each other, and help people understand how it hurts us all.”

Abbott deplored the incident and said such behavior won’t be tolerated at USD. The dean of students has worked with the students involved and continues to provide educational programs and training for all students.

Abbott said he believes the university has a responsibility to teach the value of diversity at all levels and has asked the President’s Council to propose steps that keep the discussion front and center in classrooms and around conference tables all across campus.

The new proposals will complement the work of Dr. Jesus Trevino, hired last year as USD associate vice president for diversity, Abbott said.

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