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Mitch's Blog


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Center of Hostile Debate

The University of North Dakota was a featured "cover story" on the front page of the USA Today sports section on Wednesday. This article is a good read if you're at all interested in the realm of NCAA governance.

N. Dakota at center of 'hostile' debate
By Sal Ruibal, USA TODAY

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — "The Ralph" sits in an open field in this prairie city like a combination of the Taj Mahal and the Pentagon, a $104 million, 10-story red-brick arena that was built by a philanthropist to house his beloved North Dakota "Fighting Sioux" hockey team.

But today, almost four years to the day it opened, the Ralph Engelstad Arena also has become ground zero in a cultural war that has divided this city, this campus and this state.

For some, The Ralph is a wonderful gift from a loyal benefactor who believed strongly in the "Fighting Sioux" spirit of teamwork and tradition.

But for those on the other side of the debate about the proper use of American Indian symbols and names, the arena is a citadel of hate and intolerance.

The NCAA is expected to rule this week on the university's appeal of an NCAA ruling that the school's "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo is "hostile or abusive." Three of the 18 schools the NCAA cited for being in violation of the rule have won appeals.

What makes this case different is that two Sioux Indian nations that are partially in the state have voiced opposition to the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and the United Tribes of North Dakota has notified the NCAA of its rejection of the logos. The Spirit Lake nation is reviewing its support of the university.

"It's a little more complicated than the others in that, in this particular case, there are three namesake tribes that we have to gather input," NCAA spokesman Bob Williams says.

In the other appeals, the NCAA had to check with only one namesake tribe.

If the ruling is upheld, North Dakota teams, including the powerhouse hockey squad, cannot display the logo or name on uniforms in postseason play.

What's more, The Ralph hosts a 2006 NCAA hockey regional. No logos or nicknames deemed "hostile or abusive" could be displayed in the arena. That might not be much of a problem at most venues, but thanks to the determination — some critics say spite — of the late casino mogul and former UND backup goalie Engelstad, his namesake arena contains more than 2,000 Fighting Sioux logos.

Every exterior surface of the 400,000-square-foot building has "Home of the Fighting Sioux" written large in 3-foot-tall gold letters or a 30-foot-wide full-color depiction of the logo.

The grand entrance hallway features another 30-foot logo imbedded in the granite floor.

Frosted glass double-wide doors have the logo, as do the railings on the balcony and the room-number plaques near every office door, and the treatment tables in the hockey training room, the wood floors in the 20,000-square-foot state-of-the-art weight room and every cubby and bin in the pro-style home team locker room.

"The NCAA says you have to cover logos," says Chris Semrau, director of media relations for the arena. "We're not sure if that means just those logos visible from the TV camera or just in the seating bowl."

Despite Engelstad's Las Vegas history — he built and operated the Imperial Casino until his death in November 2002 — The Ralph is plush without being crass: all of the hockey arena seats — from the student section to the private suites — are leather and have cherry-wood armrests.

The smaller logos are all in gold and blend well with the retro-ballpark look of the brass-topped and green-painted railings. The building has 100,000 square feet of granite and 3.2 miles of brass trim.

But some of his work is stealthy: Shrubbery along the perimeter of the site appears normal from street level, but when viewed from above, the bushes spell out F-I-G-H-T-I-N-G S-I-O-U-X.

Opponents: It's dehumanizing

"The Ralph is a symbol of power," says Donna Brown, assistant director of the school's American Indian Student Services. "It is a symbol of power, Ralph Engelstad's power and the power of the money he had. It sends a clear message to people who oppose the nickname and logo that there's nothing you can do. You're not going to change that name. It was meant to be a constant reminder to us that he won."

Brown and other opponents of the Sioux nickname say its use dehumanizes the members of the so-called Sioux nations. At best, the logo and nickname place American Indians in the past and ignore their presence in today's North Dakota. At its worst, the symbols encourage aggressive racist attitudes and actions that Brown and others find threatening and derogatory.

Lucy Ganje, a member of the art department faculty, displays several T-shirts that were worn on campus by both UND supporters and fans from rival schools. A shirt for supporters shows a crude caricature of a male Indian having sexual relations with a bison, the symbol of archrival North Dakota State University. An NDSU shirt counters with an even more obscene sexual scene involving an Indian cartoon character and a bison.

"Native people won't go to sporting events because their families, their children, are exposed to these things," Ganje says. "The university just tells them to turn the shirts inside-out, but once they get to their seats, they turn them out again."

Student Holly Annis, a member of a South Dakota Sioux nation, says the atmosphere on campus — where only 400 out of the more than 13,000 students are from Sioux nations — is poisonous and exhausting.

"You cry a lot," she says. "It is hard seeing that all day, the shirts, the logos. Here are people presenting themselves as some kind of Sioux when they know nothing of the culture."

The most hurtful comments at American Indian students are the taunts of "Prairie N——-," she says.

"It's difficult to stay here, but there are so many wonderful programs brought here by native people. It is important that we don't run away."

Looking for middle ground

For university President Charles Kupchella, the row over the nickname and logos has become somewhat surreal.

"I feel like I fell down the rabbit hole," he says.

Kupchella says he represents the middle ground between one side's demands that American Indian history be respected and the other side's demands that an 80-year-old school tradition be preserved.

"In some people's view, I'm the guy who couldn't say 'no' to Ralph Engelstad," he says. "That's not true. I told him 'no' when he wanted to use the old logo his team used during the '50s. It was a caricature similar to the one used by the Chicago Blackhawks. He didn't like what I had to say, but he eventually went along."

Kupchella did have a big tiff with Engelstad during construction of the building when he indicated that he might agree to revise the mascot and logo.

Engelstad refused and threatened to stop work on the site if that happened.

Under the school's contacts with Engelstad, however, that couldn't happen. But Engelstad convinced the state Board of Education to agree that the school could never change its mascot.

"My job is to make sure that the mascot and logo are used in a responsible manner," he says.

"That's the middle ground."

He has reduced the presence of logos in the arena's new Betty Engelstad Sioux Center for basketball and volleyball, going so far as to have the Sioux logo grinded off the basketball court.

The arena is owned by an Engelstad trust that is directed by a three-person board. That board includes Betty Engelstad. She has declined interviews and a request for a statement on the issue is being considered.

Even if the NCAA rules against the school and forces a change, The Ralph won't have to remove its logos or Sioux references. Although it is on campus, the trust owns the building.

Kupchella says that UND's contract deal calls for the building to transfer to the university in 26 more years. At that time, the logos could be changed.

"I'll wait," says Leigh Jeanotte, director of American Indian Student Service. "I can wait."

Contributing: Steve Wieberg
© Copyright 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Unsurprisingly, the NCAA announced on Wednesday that it had chosen not to take UND off of its list of colleges using “hostile and abusive” mascots and/or names, honoring the wishes of the two North Dakota Sioux tribes that spoke out against the school’s mascot and name.

Although both sides make some good points, and I don’t believe UND’s mascot or the name “fighting Sioux” is used in a “hostile or abusive” way by UND students, I do think that the NCAA made the correct decision, considering that there were two actual Sioux tribes that vehemently voiced their disapproval with both UND’s mascot and name. All in all, however, I’m pretty apathetic toward the whole issue. Of course, if all else fails, I suppose UND could always adopt a mascot such as this:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Sunday Entry

I had the intention of writing something earlier this week, but for some reason or another I got busy ad never got around to doing so. It seems like time has been going by really quickly here, especially when I stop and realize that by the time this Monday rolls around, I will have been at college for one month. It just doesn’t seem like I’ve been living in Grand Forks for that long, but, of course, the calendar never lies.

Now that I have had all of my classes for a month, I suppose it’d be a good time to discuss them in a little bit more detail that I have in the past.

First off, I’ve discovered that my honors “inquiry into the humanities” class can basically be considered a clone of the AP English Language class I had last year. Not only is the professor of this course a lot like Brainerd High School’s Mrs. Niemi, but the homework required in this class is also very similar to that which is required in AP English Language in Brainerd. The only difference is that my honors class only meats twice a week and we do not write any in-class essays or take any multiple choice tests. Other than that, a lot of things are alike. In fact, one of the articles I had to read and write a response in my “journal” to last week seemed very familiar to me. I’m pretty sure that I read it sometime in AP Lang, either in an excerpted form on a multiple choice test or as a passage to respond to in my journal.

Besides The Things They Carried, my honors class has also read – and discussed – a very short (100 page) book on philosophy that turned out to be rather boring and uninteresting and Maus, a very good story about one person’s experience surviving the Holocaust. It’s definitely not your normal survivor story though, particularly considering that the author, Art Spiegelman, decided to tell his father’s heartbreaking story in a comic book fashion.

Along with reading, I’ve also written one “small” essay and a few more short responses to passages from books or essays we’ve read out of class as well as things that have come up in classroom discussions. In addition, everyone in the class is also required to post, about every week, two messages of significance on a private, online discussion board. So far, I’ve posted six different times.

German 201 is also going well, although it is really easy for me. Aside from slight variations in the teachers’ teaching styles, there really isn’t that much difference between this class and all of the German classes I took in high school, particularly AP German. The biggest difference, I suppose, would be that my university German class places less emphasis on learning grammar, but I guess that’s to be expected, since there really isn’t any “new” grammar to learn after taking a first-year language class. It’s just a matter of reinforcing everything you’ve already learned.

I still really enjoy German, and I still intend to get a minor in the language. It doesn’t really require too many credits to get a minor, plus it’s highly recommended that chemistry majors get one anyway. And what better language is there than German for a chemistry major to learn?

One neat thing I discovered in the language lab here is that they have a satellite or something equipped to receive live television from Germany. I’m not sure just what channels they get – it may even be the made-for-North-America German TV service – but, in any case, it is television completely in German.

Let’s see, the next class I can discuss is Calc II. So far, this class has been pretty easy and really boring. The professor comes nowhere close to being a Mr. Blong, whom I had become quite accustomed to learning math from, and just spends an entire hour lecturing in front of the chalkboard. There are only about 25 people in this class, plus it’s in a traditional classroom environment, so that has prevented me from not attending regularly or filling in The Dakota Student’s crossword puzzle.

I still really enjoy my chemistry class. The professor is actually quite entertaining in his thrice-weekly lectures, plus it doesn’t hurt that I do naturally enjoy learning about chemistry. Right now, we’ve started learning some advanced topics that deal with the atom, such as atomic spectra and energy levels, quantum numbers, electron orbitals, and so forth.

There’s also, of course, a weekly lab component that goes with my chemistry class, and so far I have had two labs. I really like all of the neat equipment and everything they have in the labs here, plus the fact that everybody gets his or her own individual drawer that holds a lot of the glassware and other tools that are needed to successfully complete many of the experiments.

Let’s see, the first lab we did involved determining empirical formulas for products that were formed by both mixing and burning different reactants. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds, but I did pretty well on it, since I was able to get a 97% yield for one of the reactions. The second lab dealt with spectrometry and identifying elements and compounds by looking into a spectroscope to see what colors were being let off. This lab was a lot more interesting and enjoyable.

Other notes I thought I’d share:
  • This last week was the 40th annual Potato Bowl Week in Grand Forks. Basically, the week is designed to celebrate Grand Forks’ connection to the growing and processing of world renowned Red River of the North potatoes. Although there are numerous potato cook-outs and feeds during the entire week, the biggest was on Thursday, when Simplot – the largest potato processing plant in the area – doled out a world record 4,518 pounds of French fries to over 10,000 people at one of Grand Forks’ city parks. This French fry feed was followed by fireworks at the old football stadium at UND. On Saturday, meanwhile, there was a large Potato Bowl parade that wound its way through Grand Forks followed by the highlight of the week: UND’s Potato Bowl football game against Western Washington University. The game turned out to be fairly unexciting, though, as UND won by 47-7. Personally, my favorite part of Potato Bowl week was the fact that every dining center on campus participated in the festivities by serving different kinds of potatoes and potato products for lunch and dinner each day.
  • I realized I haven’t posted any pictures of my room or anything yet, so I need to get around to doing that. I took some photos about a week ago, so right now it’s just a matter of getting them uploaded and shared.
  • On Tuesday, I walked over to the western end of campus – where the aerospace science buildings are located – and I now realize why so many people come to UND for something related to aviation and why UND has been described as being “to aviation what Harvard is to law.” The aerospace science buildings are absolutely stunning both inside and out. I brought my camera along when I toured the buildings, so those are some more photos that I’ll have to put up here when I get the chance.
  • I can’t believe I never thought of doing so before, but earlier on Saturday, I decided to go to network connections and local area networks on my computer. Needless to say, I discovered 27 other computers on the same network as I, with quite a few of those computers sharing files and folders off of their hard drives. Let’s just say I was able to not only find, but also download a lot of music and video files from the other computers onto my own. I’m kicking myself for not previously thinking about the amount of files – including good music – that would exist on some the other computers on my LAN.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

My Wednesday Evening

I just wanted to write something short to say that everything is still going just fine. I did attend a pretty exciting event last night, though, when Jane Goodall came to UND to give a public lecture.

I hope everybody reading this knows who Jane Goodall is, but, if you don’t, there’s always a lot of information that you can find on Wikipedia. Click here to read the Jane Goodall encyclopedia entry.

Anyway, she came to the Chester Fritz Auditorium, the chief stage/theater/auditorium on campus. The auditorium is able to seat about 2500 people, and, in what was very pleasing to see, virtually every one of the seats on the main floor and two balconies had somebody sitting in it. I suppose it helped that the event was free to everybody – you didn’t even need a ticket to gain admittance – and that the Grand Forks Herald did a good job the day before promoting the event. The audience was a good mix of college students (not all necessarily from UND) and people from the community. As if happened, I ended up sitting way up top on the first balcony next to a couple of really nice biology teachers at one of Grand Forks’ high schools.

Dr. Goodall came on stage at about 7:10 PM and launched right in to her lecture, which lasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Her lecture was very, very interesting, and started off with her discussing her life and how everything came together for her to begin her first landmark study of chimpanzees in Africa. She then proceeded to talk about what her studies have found regarding chimpanzee behavior and even included a couple of neat stories of what she encountered deep in jungles of central Africa.

From there, the lecture became more serious, as Dr. Goodall began discussing not only how dire the situation for both chimps and people in Africa is, but also in the entire world in general. She emphatically urged the audience to try to overturn the immense degradation the environment has suffered in the last half-century. She concluded that “There is hope,” and that “it lies in heads and hands of each one of us.”

To end, Goodall told a couple more stories of the adventures she’s experienced in her lifetime. All in all, Dr. Goodall proved to be an extremely eloquent speaker, and her force on stage was reinforced by her soothing English accent. Goodall was also pretty funny, as she managed to include some wit into her lecture and ad-lib some jokes before and after her lecture as well.

After a short Q&A session following the lecture, whereby anybody in the audience could come up to a microphone to ask Dr. Goodall a question, she proceeded to go out to the main lobby of the auditorium to speak with people and sign books. Some people associated with the Jane Goodall Foundation were also on hand to sell some wares. The number of people standing in line to get a chance to see Goodall was, however, far too long for me, so I opted to leave. Interestingly enough, though, just as I was coming off the stairs from the balcony level to the lobby level, Goodall and her entourage walked right past me. So yes, I can say I came within about 3 feet of Jane Goodall.

So basically going to see this lecture was a really nice way to spend my Wednesday evening. As an endnote – because I didn’t know where else it would fit into this entry – Goodall, before Wednesday, had visited 49 of the United States. What was the one state she had never been to? North Dakota.

Click here to read a Grand Forks Herald article about Goodall’s appearance.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Some Pictures Around Campus

So I took these pictures around campus about a week ago and I still haven’t posted them. I thought it would be a good idea to do that tonight. Basically, I just roamed around campus at about 7:30 PM on Friday and Sunday evening and snapped some photos. Now, you’re really only going to see a very, very small fraction of the entire UND campus in these photos, but, even though, I thought they’d provide some sort of glimpse into what my new surroundings look like.

All of the photos were taken in the portion of the campus where the majority of classes are held, so that’s why no other souls can be seen hanging around in the grass or along the sidewalks. It’s actually pretty peaceful for me to walk around this part of campus at around 7:00 or 8:00 PM since I really like all of the flowers, trees, buildings, etc. It’s too bad the sun will be setting at around 5:00 PM every night before very long, though.

Before I present the pictures, I wanted to note two things I’ve observed. First, I still really like the library here, but my fondness for it grew even more today after I discovered that it has a small exhibit center dedicated to telling the story of Grand Forks’ history. The exhibits aren’t necessarily exhaustive, but do nevertheless educate anybody who spends a minute or two looking them over as to what this area of North Dakota and Minnesota is all about.

Now the second point I wanted to make is that I really like the building called “The Memorial Union,” but colloquially just “The Union.” This is one of the newer buildings on campus, having been built as a result of the devastating 1997 flood. Incidentally, even though the university is no less than 2 miles away from the Red River, it still was affected by the floodwaters. Most of the university’s buildings had water surrounding them, which can be seen in the completely renovated and remodeled basements that a lot of the structures have around here. In fact, the flood has seemed to have a cathartic effect on the city of Grand Forks; it’s hard to find a run-down house around here since it’s apparent that they all have brand-new windows and siding.

Anyway, The Union is a 3-story (with basement) building that I suppose you could call a student lounge. The basement floor houses the Terrace Dining Center, my favorite, and most restaurant-like, of the three on-campus dining centers. There is also a computer lab, game room with pool tables, TV lounge, barber shop, Great Clips, and equipment rental area down in the basement. The second floor, meanwhile, has a huge “lecture bowl” and ballroom. But the first floor is the best one. It pretty much reminds me of an airport concourse, but instead of being a place where travelers spend an indefinite amount of time lounging in between flights, it’s a place where a bunch of students spend an indefinite amount of time lounging in between classes. The first floor is anchored on one end by the Old Main Food Court, which is where you go if you want to get fast food on campus (but even then, the only chain restaurants available are Sbarro and A&W; the rest are independently-owned operations). The other end of the first floor contains an internet café, The Stomping Grounds coffee shop, and “The Loading Dock,” which is basically a TV lounge/place to sit down and drink your coffee. In between these two ends is a large hallway that has, in the middle of it, comfortable couches and chairs and large screen TVs. I think there’s even a gas fireplace that you can cozy up to in the winter. There is also a convenience store, a U.S. post office, a printing/copying center, an information center, and other offices for campus programs and organizations on the first floor.

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The metal figure is "The Soaring Eagle" and is in the middle of a garden that features only plants native to the original prairies that made up the area

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There are also a lot of flower gardens on campus

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Some more flowers -- too bad they'll all be dead in about a month

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This snake-like figure is actually a monument dedicated to the people who attended UND during The Great Depression

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This is the newest fixture on campus this year -- a small little tone plays at 15 and 45 past the hour, the Big Ben jingle (the same as what is played on the half-hour in Brainerd) plays at 00 and 30 past the hour, and "God Bless America" plays at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 8 PM

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This is Twamley Hall, where all the administrative offices (registrar, tuition payments, etc.) are

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There's also a Coulee that winds its way through campus -- quite a beautiful stream

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The good-sized Grand Forks railyard is, literally, right next to the UND campus

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This parking lot belongs to one administrative buildings; you can see just how close the yard is to the sounth end of campus

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The sun even started to come out as I was taking pictures

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This is one of the bridges crossing the coulee

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This is the bridge pictured above and its reflection in the coulee

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There's even a little waterfall along the coulee

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This old building (built in the 1920s or 30s I'm guessing) is Merrifield Hall and is where my German class is located -- on the third floor, some 100 stairs up

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The eternal flame, powered by propane, stands on the site of where the first building on the UND campus was built

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This is one of the one-way roads right in the thick of the academic halls

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This is Witmer Hall, where all math and physics classes are located

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The UND Wayfinder

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One more shot of the coulee in the sun

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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001