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NDSU president calls for end of 'hateful' Sioux chant at Bison football games

North Dakota State players rush the stands and celebrate with the student section after defeating Georgia Southern Friday, Dec.15, 2012, during the FCS playoff semifinals at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO—Leaders at North Dakota State University are pleading with students to stop cheering at Bison football games with a traditional—but derogatory—chant dating back to its rivalry with the University of North Dakota.

Although UND retired its former Fighting Sioux nickname in 2012 and renamed it sports teams the Fighting Hawks last year, some NDSU students persist in shouting a recurring chant that has been condemned as "hateful." When NDSU make a first down, the students say "Sioux suck," ending the three-word phrase with an expletive.

A letter to the editor in the campus newspaper, The Spectrum, calling for an end to the chant has prompted leaders at NDSU, including President Dean Bresciani, to urge students and others to end the tradition.

"We suspect people are continuing this chant out of a misplaced sense of tradition, and we are asking any who do so to re-evaluate their participation," an email sent Friday, Oct. 14 to the campus community said. The joint email was signed by Bresciani, the student body president, the presidents of the faculty and staff senates and several other top administrators.

"We challenge anyone using hateful, thoughtless language to reflect on that language," the email said. "We believe that people continuing to use these chants are not understanding that these chants are hurtful; they do not reflect the aspiration of NDSU to be a welcoming community."

The email plea followed a letter to the editor that ran Oct. 6 in the campus newspaper by student Erik Jonasson II.

"As we sit in the stands cheering on our truly dominant football team, it is hard to not be sickened by this chant," he wrote, acknowledging that "it is hard not to fall into the crowd mentality."

Jonasson's letter concluded, "Time and time again though we have been told this is wrong."

The "Sioux suck" tradition at NDSU has deep roots. Back in 2002, university officials were warning before a football game against UND that students wearing shirts bearing the phrase would be asked to turn them inside out. In 1990, a football player uttered the phrase after the team had won a national title, a Forum sportswriter noted in 2012 in a column about a player again using the phrase while celebrating another national championship.

NDSU student representatives said they believe a vocal minority of students are keeping the tradition alive, while other students join in without thinking of the words' damaging effects.

"People are kind of going along with the flow," said Nathaniel Thoreson, a freshman at NDSU. "It's kind of that mob mentality."

The Fighting Sioux nickname, although discarded, remains a potent symbol in North Dakota, making it a hard tradition to kill, said Thoreson, a Fargo native.

"Either we're going to have to get rid of it completely, or it's not going to go away," he said.

UND itself has struggled to keep fans from continuing to use its old nickname. It is commonly referenced at hockey games when many in the crowd end the national anthem with a localized lyrical tweak, saying "home of the Sioux" instead of "home of the brave."

But the way student fans of the Bison use the old nickname is shockingly crude, said Klarissa Walvatne, an NDSU freshman NDSU freshman.

"Our culture is changing and I think it's something uncalled for," she said. "I was not impressed at all by the chant, so I hope it changes and I hope our students respect UND."

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