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Former Head of NAACP spoke about nickname

By Melissa Van Hoff Dakota Student Staff Writer

The Dakota Student, April 24 2001


Dr. Benjamin Chavis didn't come to UND to stir things up.

"Things are already stirred up," Chavis said.

Thursday afternoon about 125 people gathered to hear the former head of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) speak on the subject "Dismantling Institutional Racism and Mascots" in Gamble Hall.

Chavis was the youngest person to head the NAACP and served as the head of the Million Man March in 1995 and later the Million Family March held in October of 2000. Chavis is also an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. He received his master's of Divinity from Duke University and his doctorate of Ministry from Howard University. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Union Theological Seminary in New York. Chavis worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and with Louis Farrakhan, a major proponent of the Nation of Islam in the late 1960s.

Growing up in Oxford, North Carolina, Chavis witnessed first hand Jim Crow laws and segregation policies and is an authority on multiculturalism, environmental racism, affirmative action and the civil rights movement.

This was not Chavis's first time in North Dakota. In the 1970s he worked in support of the American Indian Movement in North and South Dakota. However, this was his first visit to UND.

"There are great buildings on campus and I'd like to know what is going on in these buildings," he said, "I'd like to be impressed by the product. I am also impressed with the academic intelligence and the potential of the University of North Dakota and I think that the issue of the mascot should be put in perspective. I think that a question of the university moving forward to becoming a major educational center for our nation shouldn't be sidetracked."

Chavis pointed out that there are 59 other "demeaning and degrading" mascots in major universities.

"UND should take a leadership role," he said, "it shouldn't be just the Native Americans asking for a change, but Blacks, Asians, Latinos, everyone. Let UND not be the 60th.

"Either sooner or later the university is going to have to change its mascot," Chavis said. "Will it happen this year? I doubt it. Will it happen after the university understands that truth can't be bought for a million, a billion or a trillion dollars? That which is truth comes from the creator and the benefactor [of the arena] isn't the creator."

Chavis also explored the counter argument in the mascot issue of "tradition".

"The state of Mississippi just voted to maintain the Confederate flag. Mississippi is one of the poorest states and they would rather risk economic boycott. This is a part of tradition," Chavis said.

"Sometimes our traditions are in fact a tradition that celebrate the denial of the equality of humanity. I'll bet that Native Americans are a part of humanity," he said.

Chavis talked of his past experiences. As a child, he grew up in a community with three racially diverse schools. He said there were not enough resources for them to function properly.

"Even the white people suffered. Racism is expensive and it doesn't make very good business sense," he said.

"Why do we do it? We're not born with prejudice," Chavis said. "Sometimes we associate with stereotypes. I couldn't believe what was happening at a sports event. Aren't we supposed to feel good at a sports event? Why would an opposing sports team (a sister university in the same state) on the same planet make derogatory, vulgar animations?" Chavis said.

The solution is to come up with a mascot that doesn't demean another human being, he said.

Chavis also spoke of Ralph Engelstad, casino owner and UND alumni who is currently constructing the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.

"I wish I had the chance to talk to the former UND hockey player, not chit-chat, but talk. Not that I think that I could change his mind but talk with him about doing something that makes his alma mater shine instead of not putting UND in the light," Chavis said.

Chavis also spoke of current events around the world and their connections to UND.

"In Cincinnati blacks and whites are rioting, police are shooting at children with rocks in their hands in the Middle East," he said.

"Why do we have to repeat the same difficulties? If UND doesn't straighten out its problems of its mascot there are going to be more problems in the future."