Banner at the Ralph stirs controversy

The final home UND hockey game had added excitement in the last period, when two UND freshmen, Austin Emineth and Baylee Ladner, held up a banner that read “Fire Kelley.” Although the stunt has caused much controversy about free speech, Emineth and Ladner say their goal was mainly to represent the fellow students’ voices, but they wouldn’t go into specifics.

“Before we did this we never wanted it to turn into a free speech issue, which is what happened,” Ladner said.

Emineth agreed.

“One of the main reasons we did this was to make the students’ voices heard,” Emineth, president of the UND College Republicans, said. “After being on campus, we’ve seen a lot of issues with the administration, and students have heard about it. We wanted to raise awareness in a sense, but I would like to highlight that our focus was not to get kicked out or argue freedom of speech and make the university and make the Ralph Engelstad look terrible for kicking us out for freedom of speech.”

When asked to break down their reasoning further, Emineth said he’d rather not go into specifics, but he did say he and Ladner acted of their own accord and were not asked to make the banner by anyone else.

Despite their self-acting, however, both claimed they were well-received by students and were representing their peers accurately overall based on the reactions of the student section.

“A very large amount of applause was going on,” Emineth said. “Some say it was even roaring. Once security came up, there were plenty of boos about what was going on, because we were being taken away. But judging by the reaction of the student section, I believe we were representing a lot of the students.”

According to the Ralph Engelstad Arena’s website, the REA Banner and Sign policy is as follows:

“Banners/signs should in no way infringe on the sightlines of other Ralph Engelstad Arena guests. Banners and signs may not be commercial, political, derogatory or obscene as determined by REA staff … Banners/signs cannot be affixed to building surfaces using tape and must fit underneath a patron’s seat. Ralph Engelstad Arena reserves the right to remove any banner or sign.”

Initially there was some confusion as to whether or not the two students were kicked out of the game or not. REA General Manager Jody Hodgson said they were simply asked to take their banner down, but said he learned later that one of his security guards had told Emineth and Ladner, “You boys are done for the night.”

Hodgson met with Emineth and Ladner Monday to clear up the issue, and the three resolved what they called a miscommunication.

After less than two minutes of overall time holding up the banner in the last minutes of the third period, both students were escorted out of their seats and were then spoken to by security.

“Based on my meeting with them, and then a subsequent conversation with a member of my security staff, I now have a better understanding of why the students believe they were asked to leave,” Hodgson said.

He also said this is a first for this kind of situation at the Ralph, and that when signs have been confiscated in the past, fans have been sent back to their seats.

“The action in a normal situation, what we would seek to do is confiscate the sign, that’s not normally an offense that one would be ejected from the building for,” Hodgson said.

But the two students, who, like Hodgson, have had no contact with UND officials either before or after Saturday’s game, have quickly moved on from the matters of free speech and whether or not they got kicked out of the game, saying that’s not what they want the focus of the stunt to be.

“We weren’t exactly aware of what the banner policy was,” Emineth said. “We figured it was a little bit too big, but that is about as far as it goes. I know there’s controversy about whether it was political … We didn’t hear anything from others saying take it down, or it’s blocking my view, but that’s not the problem, and that was not the issue.”

Since the Ralph Engelstad Arena is privately owned, UND has taken no part in the situation, and Emineth said neither he nor Ladner has had contact with anyone from the UND administration, before or after Saturday night.

The two students said they did not anticipate receiving the reaction they did, and that they made the banner as a very broad statement, not as a reaction to any one act.

“I don’t know if this was in response to one specific thing — if you go around and ask multiple students, they’re all going to have a different answer; there’s not going to be one specific answer of what’s going on,” Emineth said. “We just decided to speak out on behalf of the students.”

As far as plans for the future go, the two don’t know what’s next.

“Maybe there might be a plan, we’re not really sure how we want to go from this,” Emineth said. “We’re seeing that students are upset now, and we just wanted students to speak out, and we wanted to basically show that you know, they’re not the only ones, that students shouldn’t be necessarily afraid to stand up for what they do on campus.”

There was little elaboration regarding the breakdown of what pushed them to make the banner, but the men said they just wanted to make a statement.

“I’d just like to point out that it’s maybe harder for us to completely understand everything because of the fact that we’re freshmen,” Ladner said. “But the little that we’ve seen in the time that we’ve been here and been involved, we just felt we needed to address some of the issues within the administration. But I don’t think it’s about what Austin and I believe, I think it’s about what our peers believe. Let’s leave it at that.”

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