Before the Senate Bill 55 task force meeting on Oct. 14, at 4:30 p.m., a meeting was held between members of the South Dakota Board of Regents (SDBOR) and several student organization presidents to discuss how the soon-to-be-established Opportunity Center would impact USD.
General Counsel Nathan Lukkes explained the Opportunity Center and answered a majority of the questions with help from other members of the SDBOR. Dean of Students Kim Grieve attended this meeting, but no one else from the USD task force was present. Lukkes said he reached out to the university following an interview with The Volante earlier this semester.
“After that interview, I kind of got to thinking, well, I’m going to be in Vermillion for the Senate Bill 55 meeting, so I reached out to USD and said ‘is there any merit or any appetite if anybody wants to sit down and meet to talk about this,'” Lukkes said.
Spectrum president Isabel Young said Lukkes discussed what freedom of speech looks like for all public South Dakota universities. She said the discussion was about the word diversity and how it “has been a hot button issue for a lot of people.” Young said the government is regulating the usage of the word so it will not be able to stay in the Center for Diversity and Community (CDC) name.
Lukkes said that he didn’t expect to reach a consensus on the debate, but he believes that a strong conversation was had about concerns.
“We met for about 90 minutes, but we had a good discussion on how things were being perceived, what issues or concerns they had, what the critical aspect or kinds of services and resources that they’re currently receiving under the CDC and vocalizing not wanting to lose or jeopardize some of those things,” Lukkes said. “We talked through where we were coming from, where they’re coming from, and trying to identify common ground if you will, or actually engage in a dialogue and try to get understanding.”
Young said the change comes from national debates and pressures from Gov. Kristi Noem, who wrote a letter to the SDBOR. She said there were also think tanks within the board discussing the Opportunity Centers and diversity centers on each campus.
“They said that they wanted the Opportunity Center to be more of an umbrella, and that an ethnic center, or like a ‘mosaic center,’ would exist underneath it,” Young said.
Rachel Overstreet, president of Tiospaye Student Council, said the SDBOR, the legislature and the governor are responding to the divisiveness around the word “diversity.” At the meeting, Lukkes said that the words “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion” can all mean different things to different people, and that the word “diversity” itself is divisive.
“President (Ally) Feiner asked if the CDC is being dissolved. Lukkes did not answer that question directly,” Overstreet said. “His response to me seemed to indicate that because the word ‘diversity’ is so divisive, the CDC, at the very least the word diversity, cannot exist on USD’s campus anymore and that the Opportunity Center is one step in removing the word ‘diversity’ from campus.”
Young said students asked questions about how the resources are going to be spread out. She the answer was that the SDBOR doesn’t want to change how the organizations will work, but also said their response was vague.
Young said students asked questions about how resources would be allocated and said the answers were vague about where the office would be and how resources would be shared. She said they were told that the stakeholder meetings will be concerned with those decisions because the university has to decide on the specifics of the Opportunity Centers.
“I think my biggest concern is the fact that they really don’t have any plan to help protect the students in their space because they’re so focused on creating a space for everyone that they’re forgetting about the people that need space to not feel like they’re in danger,” Young said.
In an email interview with The Volante, President of the Student Government Association Ally Feiner said that after attending the 4:30 p.m. meeting, she was able to understand that the SDBOR isn’t necessarily taking away the CDC but rather increasing resources to other services so that students can better utilize them.
“Moving forward, the committee will be holding stakeholders’ meetings with students and any other active groups that will be affected by the changes regarding the Opportunity Center. I highly encourage students who want their opinion to be heard to email the President’s Office to set up a stakeholder meeting. The only way to ensure that the University is creating a space that all of campus agrees with is by allowing the committee to hear your opinion,” Feiner said.