There’s an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago—the second best time is now.
Many of USD’s traditions honoring inclusive excellence have roots decades old. In October, the 26th Annual Red Road Gathering told stories of healing and community as it honored founder Gene Thin Elk, director of Native Student Services, who retires this year. The International Club’s Festival of Nations, which celebrates the cultures of 15 countries, continues to thrive after more than 20 years. The Tiospaye Student Council will host its 46th annual Wacipi April 7-8 at USD.
New traditions continue to develop, adding to the diversity and community at USD. Lunar New Year is in its third year, providing an opportunity to experience Asian languages, culture, food, music and celebration. For the first time this year, USD was painted in purples, greens and reds as the Nepalese Student Association hosted Holi, the Hindu festival of colors. African Night, the Fine Arts Diversity Symposiums, the Lavender Lecture – we can’t list them all, and that’s a good problem to have.
One USD student in particular intersects both the traditional celebrations and the new ways that USD upholds inclusive excellence. Freshman medical biology student Steven Wilson honored his heritage and gave a voice to those not heard by singing the national anthem in Lakota at the 2018 South Dakota State A Boys Basketball Championship and the WNIT Sweet 16 game between USD and Michigan State. Nearly 600,000 people heard his moving tribute via social media.
Wilson, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from Pine Ridge, is also a graduate of Upward Bound, a summer program that brings Native American high school students to USD for an introduction to college life. Additionally, he is a member of the newly-established Inclusive Science Initiative, which encourages diverse representation in the sciences.
Some of the most meaningful projects for inclusive excellence receive the least amount of fanfare. A collaboration earlier this fall between faculty, staff and students in Fine Arts and the Native American Cultural Center led to the creation of a mural that honors the multitude of voices and experiences at USD. It wasn’t based on a classroom assignment or an annual tradition — just an idea, a seed that sprouted, was nurtured and will provide inspiration to generations of students.
With the school year coming to a close, we encourage you to ask yourself: What seeds am I planting today?
The President’s Council for Diversity and Inclusiveness