Target of hate message says he’s staying at SDSUMessage scrawled on bathroom stall listed student's dorm room number.
BROOKINGS (AP) — After a night of swallowing Pepto Bismol for a stomach ache, Hepi Flute Player already was feeling queasy early on Sept. 28 when he walked into the first-floor bathroom of Brown Hall on the South Dakota State University campus.
What he saw on the side of a bathroom stall made him even sicker.
Someone had penned a hate message, making a derogatory reference to his tribal ethnicity. They wrote his dorm room number next to it, making it clear the words were meant for him. They told him to “go back to the rez.”
“I was sick,” the 19-year-old sophomore general studies major from Sioux City, Iowa, said. “It really did make me feel uncomfortable.”
In an instant, the incident became a flashpoint in a statewide dialogue on racial reconciliation that began more than 20 years ago, when tribal newspaper publisher Tim Giago encouraged then Gov. George Mickelson to declare a year of reconciliation a century after the Wounded Knee massacre.
The state has traveled far since then in the area of racial and cultural respect. It celebrated American Indian Day last Monday instead of Columbus Day. At public universities such as SDSU, the University of South Dakota and Black Hills State, American Indian Studies programs have been created or enhanced to draw more and more tribal students into the mainstream postsecondary experience. Gov. Dennis Daugaard elevated the Office of Tribal Relations to Cabinet level status in his administration.
“Things have gotten better,” said Craig Howe, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who runs the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies near Martin. “But we’re going to have these kinds of incidents as long as we have human beings.”
SDSU administrators have said those responsible for the message in Brown Hall could face charges for violating state hate laws if found and convicted; they also could be suspended or expelled from the school. University police continue to investigate the incident.