Some University of Minnesota students plan to protest the Washington Redskins’ nickname when the NFL team plays on campus this fall.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., sent a letter last month urging Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to take a stand against the Redskins’ name, also stating that it would violate University of Minnesota policy. Some students agree, saying the name is derogatory and offensive to the state’s large Native American population.
The Redskins are scheduled to play the Vikings at the University’s TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 2. But McCollum’s letter says allowing the team and its “racist” name on campus would breach the Board of Regents’ Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action Policy.
The policy says the University seeks to have a “diverse, humane, and hospitable” atmosphere, adding that the institution will create an environment “free from racism … and other forms of prejudice, intolerance or harassment.”
In a prepared statement responding to the letter, the University said that it’s “very sensitive to the use of sports team names that promote stereotypes” and that it tries to create a welcoming environment for faculty, staff, students and visitors.
But the University said it won’t stop the Redskins from playing on campus, and it’s currently unclear how the institution’s leaders will handle the situation.
“While we cannot prevent this game from being played, we are looking into this issue to determine how the U community can best respond,” the statement read.
The American Indian Student Cultural Center will partner with the Office for Equity and Diversity and the Department of American Indian Studies to protest during the game, said AISCC President Chelsea Holmes.
Holmes said she was happy with McCollum’s message and her group plans to formally respond to the letter later this summer.
“I was excited,” she said. “I think this is a big step forward.”
McCollum’s letter came a day after the Redskins franchise lost federal protection for its trademarked name. A board from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled the nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.”
“The time for debate has ended — the name of the Washington franchise is clearly an offensive racial slur,” McCollum, who co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus, wrote in the letter.
AISCC board member Brandon Alkire said McCollum’s letter touched on important points that are usually overlooked during discussions about Native American equality.
For example, he said, McCollum’s letter pointed out that TCF Bank Stadium has a plaza honoring Minnesota’s Native American tribes and that the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community helped fund the stadium’s construction.
“I love what she had said because it’s true,” Alkire said.
Holmes said she personally considers the Redskins’ name to be derogatory, although others in the Native American community might not.
She said her mother doesn’t think the name is demeaning, adding that the difference in perception could be due to modern-day lessons on racism.
“We’re not all one person,” Holmes said. “Different people think all kinds of different things.”
But if a name like the Redskins brings up historical trauma for some people, she said, it shouldn’t be used.
None of the people who received McCollum’s letter — including University President Eric Kaler, Board of Regents Chair Richard Beeson, and leaders in state government and the Native American community — have responded, her office said in a statement.
McCollum still plans to continue work on this issue, her office said.