Monthly Archives

December 2015


Why Do We Not Care?

For eighteen days, Black Lives Matter activists protested the Jamar Clark shooting by occupying the 4th Precinct police station in North Minneapolis (November 16-December 3). The protester’s demands include the following:

  • Release of the video footage taken during the shooting of Jamar Clark
  • Prosecution of the police officers involved in Jamar Clark’s death by a special prosecutor without grand jury
  • Bring federal terrorism charges against the men that shot five protesters outside the Fourth Precinct

The five men responsible for the attack were a band of White supremacists that had spent the last several days surveying the 4th Precinct occupation. They were looking for an opportunity to “stir shit up” according to transcripts of the group’s text conversations.

One of the shooters, Allen “Lance” Scarsella, is an alumnus of the University of St. Thomas. He graduated in May 2015. Scarsella is facing the most severe charges of the five men, including five counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon.


Meanwhile, the Mall of America is attempting to get a restraining order against Black Lives Matter to protect against another protest. Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis plans to protest at the MOA tomorrow if their demands are not met, regardless of a restraining order being imposed.

Between the national impact of BLM, proximity of these recent events to our campus, and alum involvement, it’s surprising to see these issues not being discussed or widely acknowledged on the University of St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus.

There isn’t an expectation for everyone at this university to publicly denounce this alumnus. There isn’t an expectation for anyone to join the protests or align themselves with the BLM movement. But why does it seem like our institution is so far removed from all of this? Between a faculty member being a prominent leader in the BLM movement (Nekima Levy-Pounds, Esq.) and the national discussion surrounding a recent alum’s harmful involvement, it’s hard to understand why these events, let alone racial injustices on a larger scale, are not being discussed on this campus.

Universities have not been proactive in addressing these recent issues. It should not take so much, especially considering the aforementioned recent local events, for the University of St. Thomas to begin listening to the concerns of its students of color. It’s strange. Understandably, not everyone is ready to directly confront their understanding of race or even their own racial identity. But our campus atmosphere and discourse remains unaffected when things of this magnitude happen.

An illustration of what UST looks like to the rest of the Twin Cities community

An illustration of what UST looks like to the rest of the Twin Cities community

College and high school students from the University of Minnesota and Southwest High walked out of classes and joined protesters the day after the shooting. These incidents are reverberating across the nation and hit close to home. St. Thomas cannot be the one pocket of the Twin Cities community that continues to neglect these issues.


J-Term Book Club

J-Term Bookclub: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

J-Term is approaching, and this one will mark the 10th annual SDIS book club!

This year we are reading and discussing The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs. Hobbs, former roommate of Robert Peace, chronicle’s Peace’s journey from the streets of a poor Newark, New Jersey neighborhood to Yale University and then back to the streets of Newark where he was murdered. Themes such as race and gender intersection and influence of social class on self-perception will be explored in the hour-long meetings held once a week during J-Term.

80 students, staff, and faculty attended last year’s book club when we read Orange Is The New Black, and over 300 people attended the following lecture from author Piper Kerman last March.

Hobbs is scheduled to give his lecture on March 7, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. in the Woulfe Auditorium.


Sign up in the SDIS office (ASC 224) and pick up your book before the semester is over. This is sure to be a fun and productive way to stay busy this J-Term!

Heritage Month

The Root of the Slur ‘Redskin’

Not everyone thinks redskin is an offensive term. A small minority of Native Americans consider it neutral, and many Americans, especially fans of sports teams like the Washington Redskins, only acknowledge the neutral or positive connotations of the term.

Though many would cite good intentions and cultural contexts as defenses for use of the term redskin, the historic significance of the term plus the expressed anger of millions of Native American tribes makes it clear that the term redskin is problematic.

There are a couple of popular origin stories for the term redskin. Some think it began as a reference to the skin on the head of a Native American who had been scalped. This was cruelly done for commercial reasons by European colonists, while other Native Americans would scalp each other only as a war tradition. Another story is that Europeans used the term in reference to Native American face paint during war.

A portrait of a European settler scalping a Native American during battle.

A portrait of a European settler scalping a Native American during battle.

In an article published by Slate magazine, a reference was made to the work of Ives Goddard, an Indian language scholar of the Smithsonian Institution. Goddard published a comprehensive study of redskin‘s early history in 2005 which provided new information on the term’s origin:

Redskin, he learned, had not emerged first in English or any European language. The English term, in fact, derived from Native American phrases involving the color red in combination with terms for flesh, skin, and man. These phrases were part of a racial vocabulary that Indians often used to designate themselves in opposition to others whom they (like the Europeans) called black, white, and so on.

The rest of the article discusses how the term redskin, despite its harmless origin, became increasingly used in the context of violence by or against Native Americans. Many newspapers published stories using the term to describe near-death encounters that settlers had with Native American tribes, which can be found in Chronicling America, the National Digital Newspaper Database.

Redskin should be avoided simply due to its trend toward negative connotations in the 19th century, along with the definition’s ambiguity in Webster’s Second Unabridged and Webster’s Third Unabridged dictionaries (1934 and 1961 respectively). The outcry from a number of Native American tribes is another reason, but that is a more complex aspect of the discussion than most people think.

In the article ‘How Many Native Americans Think ‘Redskins’ is a Slur?‘, it is mentioned that a significant number of Native Americans do not find the term offensive.

In the case of the Red Mesa school district on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona, superintendent Tommy Yazzie believes larger issues such as environmental negligence on Native lands by corporations and government warrant more concern than the term. The reservation’s high school actually has sports teams named the Redskins.


The Dakota Sioux reservation in North Dakota voted to keep the University of North Dakota’s ‘Fighting Sioux’ nickname in 2010. It was only removed after a statewide vote in 2012.

These tribes, along with survey data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey suggest that only a minority of Native Americans—9 percent according to the survey—consider the use of the term redskin to be an issue. 

Despite these cases, the activists leading the lawsuit against the Washington Redskins have plenty of support from the Native American community. According to Suzan Shown Harjo, one of the campaign’s leaders, there is support for the lawsuit from the Cherokee, Comanche, and Seminole tribes among others, as well as the National Congress of American Indians which represents 250 groups and roughly 1.2 million Native American individuals.

In response the 2004 Annenberg survey, as well as tribes who support the use of Native American mascots, Harjo expressed doubt in the both the survey sample and the political involvement of the few tribes who support the use of the mascots.

Harjo criticized the lack of specific questions about the identity of those participating in the Annenberg survey. Tribal affiliation and level of sociopolitical involvement were not gauged by the survey to qualify the responses. Harjo also considered the cases of tribes supporting Native American mascots as suffering from “internalized oppression”, or unconsciously buying into the popular narratives about Native Americans without considering its implications.

Of course, not every Native American will have the same opinion on the term redskin. And not every dictionary or interest group will agree on its current definition. But given its tumultuous history and the significance of its more negative connotations, it is tough to defend the use of the term and mascot as something positive.

As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said after an initially defensive stance on the term, “If one person is offended, we have to listen.”