Letter to the Editor: South Dakota Board of Regents, Opportunity Centers: A Battle for Inclusion
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Letter to the Editor: South Dakota Board of Regents, Opportunity Centers: A Battle for Inclusion

The South Dakota Board of Regents (SDBOR) met Thursday, Oct. 14 at the University of South Dakota (USD) to end their listening tour on South Dakota Senate Bill 55. SB 55 created a task force to review institutional functions. Students filled the university’s auditorium to address their concerns on the task force’s finding and the SDBOR’s Opportunity for All proposal.

The task force was composed of state legislators, university presidents, out-of-state business owners and CEOs from surrounding states. For example, Jim Neiman, who owns a business in Wyoming, has little to no stake in South Dakota politics. Student concern was not included in this conversation.

Brian Maher, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents, stated, “I think in the composition of the task force, we could have certainly done better, we could have definitely done better.”

After closing questions on SB 55, the board opened the floor to questions for the Opportunity for All proposal.

Opportunity for All was a proposal drafted in a broad manner to replace any talk of diversity on college campuses in South Dakota. Maher cited national conversation of diversity and inclusion as factors for this proposal. However, the proposal failed to include the word “diversity” in its entirety. SDBOR opted to include words such as “the rich tradition of American universities.”

Current student and Spectrum Secretary Beanie Luttig stated the Center for Diversity and Community (CDC) is a home for international students, students of color and LGBT+ students.

“I’ve felt safe in this space. We’ve had legislators pushing against this space and it’s very disheartening,” Luttig said.

A wide consensus across USD has shown students want this space to stay.

The Opportunity for All proposal stated the universities must draft a plan for Opportunity Centers on their respective campuses. The SDBOR and University of South Dakota president Sheila Gestring stated the proposed Opportunity Centers would provide alumni networking and leadership development training, all of which the university currently provides.

In an Oct. 14 meeting, the SDBOR stated universities must remove the word “diversity” from their campus, according to students at the meeting. Yet again, an act to remove a demographic from campus.

To provide a space for the Opportunity Center, the university must find funds to accomplish it. No clear guidance has come from SDBOR or USD. The SDBOR made no promises the funding wouldn’t come from the CDC.

This comes as a reaction from the state’s Joint Appropriations Committee, which recently tried to strip USD of $275 thousand to defund their office of diversity, according to the Argus Leader. Gov. Kristi Noem, a conservative from rural South Dakota, has expressed joy while pushing the defunding of diversity offices against the wills of the students attending these institutions.

The Student Government Association at USD has openly expressed their unanimous support for the CDC and diversity efforts on campus. In addition, the student body has continued to express disapproval for the opportunity center’s proposed plan. One thing is for certain: the student body at USD does not want the CDC to go anywhere.

Carter Linke