Local natives make impact at USDWhen Shea Smith heard that the Westboro Baptist Church was mounting a protest in Vermillion, she decided to do something about it. The church has become infamous nationally for its protests at soldiers’ funerals, where church members have said God is punishing the United States for its acceptance of homosexuality. The church’s Vermillion event was not in connection with a funeral and was apparently staged as a publicity stunt.
By: Austin Kaus, The Daily Republic
When Shea Smith heard that the Westboro Baptist Church was mounting a protest in Vermillion, she decided to do something about it.
The church has become infamous nationally for its protests at soldiers’ funerals, where church members have said God is punishing the United States for its acceptance of homosexuality. The church’s Vermillion event was not in connection with a funeral and was apparently staged as a publicity stunt.
Through Smith’s efforts, approximately 100 college students gathered on a street corner across from the church members last year with signs reading “God Hates Hate” and, on the lighter side, “I Thought This Was A Pokemon Battle.”
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to avert university anger and maybe draw attention away from their hateful message and just celebrate friendly nonsense,” Smith said recently.
For her efforts, as well as work done with the International Students Club last year, the University of South Dakota sophomore and Mitchell native received the university’s Outstanding Diversity Award this month.
Both she and her brother, D.J., have made their mark at the university since their arrival.
D.J., a 19-year-old freshman, recently gained recognition for his creation of a suicide prevention group called Lost and Found.
He started the nonprofit organization in September while he was a student at Mitchell High School. This year, he set a New Year’s resolution to bring more attention to the group. Since then, the group has gained national attention. Now, campuses in New York, Nebraska and Minnesota may be starting chapters.
“It’s already made a strong impact just coming to campus,” D.J. said. “It’s been really exciting, and I think the only point from here is up.”
Shea and D.J. are the children of Pat and Veronnica Smith, of Mitchell. Pat is the Davison County state’s attorney, and Veronnica is the administrator of Avera Brady Health and Rehab.
“They’re just great kids. They’re also very independent,” Pat said this week. “I’m very proud of both of them.”
D.J. is also the philanthropy chair for Phi Delta Theta and the student internal affairs committee chairman for the USD Student Government. Shea is the house manager of the Pi Beta Phi sorority and was working hard recently in preparation for Strollers, an annual USD show that features musical numbers and skits. She also participated in Dance Marathon, an annual event designed to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Activism seems to run in the family. Shea and D.J.’s younger sister, Emmy, spoke out about cuts to extracurricular programs during a recent Mitchell Board of Education meeting.
The 17-year-old junior said not all extracurricular programs were considered in the cuts proposed by the board and asked the board to consider taking a small amount of support from all programs rather than asking so much of the music program.
Both she and brother Andrew, 14, are members of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA, the same group in which Shea served in leadership positions and D.J.’s idea for the Lost and Found was born and received national recognition.
D.J. said he and his siblings all feel they have roles to play in making the world a better place.
“If we want something to be done and we want to make a difference and our mind is set on that, nothing can stop us,” D.J. said. “Sitting still definitely isn’t what we do.”