SCSU bans American Indian team names from student media

Joanna Dornfeld

One student was suspended from work and litigation is pending after St. Cloud State University decided to crack down on the use of American Indian nicknames or logos in their publications or broadcasts.

A student television producer wasn’t allowed to broadcast last weekend’s hockey games against the University of North Dakota after he said he would use the team’s nickname, the Fighting Sioux.

Lisa Foss, SCSU marketing communications director, said the student violated a 1993 university athletics department policy prohibiting the use of American Indian nicknames and mascots on all publications, broadcasts and press releases.

The student worked for Husky Productions, which is hired by the university to broadcast the games.

“This is an employee/employer issue,” Foss said.

The university’s student government also passed a resolution Nov. 1 restricting campus media from using such terms.

SCSU media include radio station KVSC, television station UTVS and student newspaper the University Chronicle. The Chronicle plans to fight the decision and has already contacted a lawyer.

“I believe they are just trying to control content,” said University Chronicle Editor Christine Johnson.

The resolution does not affect students working for Husky Productions, because they are private contractors.

The student government approves the budgets for all university student groups. If the media outlets do not comply, the student government has the authority to revoke funding for university media.

The resolution sparked a three-hour debate at the Nov. 1 meeting, said Becky Boettcher, a student government senator at large.

The senate voted 8-3 in favor of the resolution. There are approximately 17 eligible voting members. The rest abstained, she said.

“I don’t feel we have (censorship) power over the media,” Boettcher said.

The only control the student government has over student groups is the threat of budget cuts, she said.

Student government leadership, SCSU administration and media representatives met Wednesday to discuss the resolution.

SCSU administration officials recommended the student government rescind the resolution, said UTVS general manager Kevin Nagle.

The consequences of the action are unknown to SCSU student government, administration and media, he said.

According to the University Chronicle’s editorial policy, writers can choose whether to use the nicknames.

Most of the University Chronicle’s staff does not support the existence of nicknames or logos, Johnson said.

“As a form of media, we don’t feel we should alter the message,” she said.

UTVS will vote internally if the student government requests it do not use American Indian nicknames and mascots on air, Nagle said.

“If they tell us we cannot, it becomes a First Amendment issue,” Nagle said. “And we will have to make a stand of some kind to ensure that our First Amendment rights are protected.”

The policy seems ridiculous because the SCSU student government cannot just monitor the media, but it would have to also censor students wearing University of North Dakota sweatshirts, Nagle said.

According to their team mascot policy, KVSC does not broadcast American Indian mascot names in play-by-play coverage or during sports updates.

The University athletic department has operated under this policy since 1993

The policy was created out of respect for the American Indian constituents on campus, Foss said.

“The president at the time felt it was inappropriate,” said Anne Abicht, SCSU athletic media relations director. “As far as the media, it’s up to them.”