Washington team name controversy sparks educational outreach

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Though University of Minnesota officials can’t stop the Washington Redskins from playing at TCF Bank Stadium next month, administrators are using the team’s presence on campus as an educational opportunity.

The nickname has stirred controversary on campus, as some students and school leaders say it’s derogatory and offensive to the state’s large Native American population.

On Friday, the University announced a series educational programs leading to the Nov. 2 game against the Vikings. The events, which include film screenings, panels and exhibits, will begin on Oct. 24 and last until Oct. 30.

Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert said in a conference call Friday the University hopes the programs engage people from all sides of the issue.

“Our hope is that we raise awareness for our community. That’s the University’s responsibility and role — to facilitate dialogue and to educate and to provide resources around this game,” she said.

University President Eric Kaler sent a letter to Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn, in early August condemning the Washington football team’s name, adding that he wanted to eliminate the use of the logo and name on all game-day material.

Albert said on Friday the University will be unable to turn away fans for wearing Washington football gear on game day.

Student groups on campus have also addressed the mascot issue. The Council of Graduate Students approved a letter earlier this week that asks University officials to use the game’s profits for creating scholarships for Native American students on campus.

Input from members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the National Coalition on Racism in Sports Media, helped create the educational series, along with using feedback from students and faculty and staff members.

Albert said some students, faculty and staff members are planning to protest the use of the name before the game starts.

“Some of our community think the Washington team name is offensive, and other parts of our community just really don’t understand why it’s offense and why we would have this educational programming around it,” she said.

The events are free, open to the public and co-sponsored by the American Indian Student Cultural Center, the Department of American Indian Studies, the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Circle of Indigenous Nations.

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