The USD Student Bar Association (SBA) changed their party plans to avoid offending indigenous culture, but received backlash because of ignorance on cultural symbols.
A Hawaiian themed party was rebranded “Beach Day” on Tuesday, however, the dress code and party favors–floral wear and leis–remained the same until Wednesday.
SBA’s initial Facebook status stated they would still give out leis at the event, but in their second message, they announced leis would no longer be given away.
“It was determined that these are culturally insensitive by the administration after doing research based off of the essay written by the initial complainant,” the message said.
The event changes were determined after a law student expressed concerns about the use of indigenous cultural symbols.
University relations announced Saturday that President Sheila Gestring is investigating if the matter violated Board of Regents Policy 1:32, Commitment to Freedom of Expression, which reads:
“…fundamental commitment to the principle that viewpoints may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the institution’s community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed. Controversial speech and robust debate are expected and valued at the institutions. The right to engage in such expression is one of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.”
“Free expression and a fierce dedication to an open marketplace of ideas is at the very heart of USD’s foundation as a liberal arts university,” the release said.
SDBOR “applauded” Gestring’s initiative in a news release on Monday.
“The board has made it very clear in policy that neither professors nor administrators can block or unduly interfere with free speech simply because some might find it offensive,” BOR President Kevin V. Schieffer said.
In an email to The Volante, Hawaii State Rep. Bob McDermott said the lei is a floral arrangement given at any “joyous occasion.”
“The lei is a symbol of our Aloha spirit in Hawaii, inclusive and welcoming… It is part of who we are in Hawaii and we are happy to share it,” McDermott said.
McDermott also said one individual’s views on the symbolization of the leis should not determine their use.
“Someone in South Dakota has their head stuck in a snowbank… One individual’s objection to its use as a festive event is both patronizing and an insult to our island tradition. It is also a demonstration of ignorance about the cultural significance of the lei,” McDermott said.