NDSU president apologizes for blackface Obama skit

North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman expressed disappointment Friday over an all-student skit mocking U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman expressed disappointment Friday over an all-student skit mocking U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

The March 18 skit - which ignited complaints of racial insensitivity - involved the NDSU Saddle and Sirloin Club and was performed during the annual Mr. NDSU pageant, which is sponsored by the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

"The students' actions were entirely unacceptable and will not be tolerated as the Office of the Dean of Student Life moves forward with an investigation," Chapman said Friday in a written statement. "NDSU does not and will not ignore acts of intolerance at our institution and or in our community."

His statement comes the same day The Forum reported on the lip-sync act in which a white student - wearing dark makeup and an afro wig - portrayed Obama receiving a lap dance. In the background, two male students dressed as cowboys simulated anal sex while holding an Obama sign that one student ripped at the end of the 30-second skit.

A complaint was filed with NDSU's Student Activities Office regarding the skit.


News of the skit was picked up nationally by The Associated Press Friday, which unsuccessfully called the Obama campaign for comment.

Other North Dakota higher education officials responded to the incident Friday.

"It's certainly behavior that's not acceptable. We need to be matter-of-fact about that," said Bill Goetz, chancellor for the university system. "We have to be sensitive to these issues, and behavior of this sort cannot be tolerated and should not be accepted."

State higher education board President John Q. Paulsen echoed Goetz's comments.

"I certainly was concerned when I read the (NDSU blackface) article in the paper this morning, as I was when I read about the UND party," he said, referring to a University of North Dakota sorority party held last November.

Guests at the UND party - hosted by the Gamma Phi Beta sorority - dressed in faux Native American regalia and red face and body paint. Native American students filed complaints after one of them found photos of the party on Gamma Phi president Anastasia Ginda's Facebook account. The sorority is on temporary social probation while the university investigates the party photo complaints.

Both university incidents come at inopportune times.

The UND sorority party took place the same month the school signed a settlement agreement with the NCAA. It ended a yearlong, multimillion-dollar lawsuit over the school's Fighting Sioux sports nickname, which is a longtime source of white-Native American tension on campus.


The Forum's report on the NDSU skit comes one week before Obama is slated to give the keynote address at the state Democratic convention in Grand Forks.

"While the actions of the (NDSU) students are regrettable and disturbing, the incident offers an opportunity to take the campus community more deeply into an understanding of the harmful nature of prejudice," Chapman said. "I'm asking the NDSU President's Diversity Council and the Anti-Racism Team to continue to work with our campus community to ensure that incidents of these kinds do not occur."

NDSU's undergraduate enrollment is 10,403. Ninety-two percent of the student body is white and 1.5 percent identify themselves as black.

NDSU Dean of Students Janna Stoskopf said officials will determine if discipline is warranted for the organizations or the individuals involved. Officials also have to weigh the distinction between inappropriate behavior and free speech, she said.

"It's a very tricky situation," Stoskopf said.

The investigation could take until the end of the school year.

Sanctions could be a written warning, probation, suspension or expulsion.

There have been occasions when leaders of organizations have also been disciplined, Stoskopf said.


Because of federal privacy laws, officials can't disclose if anyone is disciplined. Sanctions that an organization receives would be public information, she said.

Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this report

Benny Polacca is a reporter for the Forum and Joseph Marks is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. Both newspapers are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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