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Dispatches from the CDC: celebrating differences at USD

This is the second installment of a series recording the experiences of students and faculty involved with the former Center for Diversity and Community.

The Center for Diversity and Community (CDC) housed many different organizations on campus. Tiospaye Student Council was one of the student organizations housed within the CDC. Although the CDC was dismantled, these organizations still operate. 

Sophomore Rachel Overstreet is the president of Tiospaye. Overstreet became president of the Tiospaye Student Council at the beginning of Fall 2021, the CDC’s final semester on campus.

Overstreet comes from a multiracial background and identifies as half white and half Choctaw, a Native American Tribe in Oklahoma. Overstreet said the CDC was special because of its ability to educate about experiences and culture.

“So, here’s the thing about the CDC. The majority of people in South Dakota have one experience of culture, which I partake in, because part of my family is white,” Overstreet said. “But then, I have this other culture that I’m involved with and I’m super excited about and that’s my Native side. But then, not everyone who is non-white at USD is Native American. I don’t know what their experience is like. I don’t know what their food is like. I don’t know what their songs are like. And the CDC said, ‘learn about that experience,’ and they did it in the most open, wonderful, amazing way.”

Last semester, Tiospaye and the CDC hosted a First Friday event. It was the first and only event Overstreet, as president, planned with the CDC. Overstreet said they purposely hosted the event in the Muenster University Center (MUC) pit on a Coyote Visitor Day to increase the visibility of the event. Overstreet was not able to attend the event in person, but even watching the event live streamed brought her to tears.

“We wanted as many people to see us and hear us and it was wonderful. It was beautiful. We had food, we had a couple people speak and we had the (USD Drum Group) perform. And while I was watching from afar, I remember feeling like, okay, we can still do it. We can still be here,” Overstreet said. “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of years of resilience, and it was another beautiful act of resistance and resilience and the power of…culture and people being able to share all of that with USD. It made the visitor day better, it made the MUC better and it was a wonderful experience for everyone.”

For Overstreet, the commitment of time and space by the university to the CDC was symbolically important and a reason why the CDC meant so much to students on campus. The CDC represented an acknowledgment and commitment to people who had different experiences than the majority of South Dakotans. Overstreet said it was hard to have the space taken away.

“I was cleaning out the office during finals week, because we had to completely clean it out…and I was taking down all the posters and…the artwork, and I found a bunch of sage that was in a drawer that someone had very clearly, lovingly put away,” Overstreet said. “This place had been set aside for such a beautiful act and such an act of representation is gone now. It’s lost and I just broke down. I cried because it just hurt.”

Tiospaye Student Council is still sharing Native American culture, despite the loss of the CDC. Overstreet, in the same spirit of the CDC, wants people at USD to come to the powwow on April 2 and 3 to learn more about her culture and to enjoy everything it has to offer.

“Come to the powwow, please,” Overstreet said. “We want everyone there; we want you there. We are so excited for you to be there. The powwow is open to everyone.”

The CDC was an umbrella organization for many different organizations representing minorities and the experiences of minorities, but Overstreet said the CDC did so much more than just represent the difficulties and struggles of being a minority. The CDC was about the differences between minorities and why each culture is special and worthy of a place at USD.

“We get caught up in how hard it is, and we forget to celebrate how wonderful it is and how wonderful it is to be who you are, because of all of the people who came before you,” Overstreet said. “The CDC was like, yes, it is hard. It can be hard to be different. It can be hard to not have everyone look like you or talk like you or sound like you. But it’s beautiful, and it’s wonderful. And the focus of the CDC wasn’t on how hard it is. It was on how beautiful it is.”