Sorority banner sparks controversy

Gamma Phi Beta sorority found itself skating on thin ice after hanging a controversial banner to support UND Men’s Hockey in the Frozen Four.

The sorority created the banner to participate in the “Tweet Your Sheets” campaign by NoDak Nation, in which students were encouraged to decorate and hang a bedsheet to show support for the hockey team. Participants were supposed to adorn their bedsheet banners with a catchy slogan and pictures, and then post a photo of it on Twitter.

Gamma Phi Beta’s banner, which read, “You can take away our mascot, but you can’t take away our pride,” was interpreted by some as an insult to Native Americans and was quickly taken down.

UND President Robert Kelley sent an email to all students and faculty the next day, apologizing for the stir the banner caused.

“The banner and the timing of the banner — at the beginning of Time Out week, sponsored by the UND Indian Studies Association — demonstrated a lack of sensitivity,” Kelley said in his email.

Time Out week is a celebration of Native American culture at UND, and the week culminated in the 44th annual powwow on campus.

UND student Rachel Richter did not believe the sorority made the banner to target Native Americans.

“I don’t think they meant any harm. It was geared toward the NCAA, not Native Americans,” she said. “I do think it was poorly timed, and they didn’t think it through.”

Gamma Phi Beta’s international headquarters issued a statement Tuesday to apologize for the incident.

“The members of (UND) Chapter sincerely apologize for the lack of respect they displayed by hanging an insensitive banner on their chapter facility,” the statement read. “Gamma Phi Beta sincerely apologizes to the University of North Dakota community — we do not condone behavior that violates the policies and values of our organization.”

The sorority got in trouble for a similar situation in 2007 when it hosted a “cowboys and Indians” themed party. The chapter said it will undergo sensitivity training in response to the banner incident.

Because the banner was taken down quickly, most students and faculty had no knowledge of the situation until the email was sent by Kelley. This led some people to believe the email should not have been sent at all.

“I think the email was unnecessary,” UND student Alex Martinson said. “It would’ve been a hush-hush deal because the banner was put up and taken down at about the same time.”

Rachel Richter acknowledged that the email was necessary and thought President Kelley handled the situation correctly.

“Some people were upset about the banner, and it is his job to step up and say sorry,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand why it needs to be an issue. They think that President Kelley was targeting the sorority. The Fighting Sioux nickname was dropped for a reason, and the student body needs to be better educated on that.”

Kelley concluded his email statement by advising students and faculty to be more cautious with their actions in the future.

“UND has a long-standing respect for the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, which we teach in many of our academic programs,” he wrote. “Along with that, we have a critical responsibility to promote respect and civility within our campus community. We teach and model respect for others. It is imperative that, through our actions, we demonstrate respect for all.”

Emmy Erbes is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].