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North Dakota Fighting Sioux Nickname Controversy and Protest: The Absence of Rationality

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This article is commentary.  It reflects the views of the writer only and is not representative of the views of The Daily Gopher or SB Nation.

Tradition is not a valid reason to continue a practice.  This concept was the most transformational and valuable of my entire college career.  When this sentence was uttered in a political philosophy class, it changed me.  When I heard it, I felt as if someone had suddenly thrown a bridge over the moat protecting my most deeply-held beliefs, enabling uncomfortable concepts invade my psyche with little resistance. Mark Jendrysik, PhD, a Professor of Political Science at the University of North Dakota, changed me with an idea.  This is the highest form of education.

Internally I reacted in a manner that I suspect is quite natural: denial.  Tradition has a place in society, right?  Tradition binds us together, gives us symbols we all can recognize and around which we can unite in common purpose, and helps us establish a deep emotional connection with concepts or institutions which might otherwise be too abstract for us to embrace.  I tried to comfort myself with these rationalizations, but it didn't work.  I realized that tradition is an emotional construct, not a rational one. When someone loses an argument on a rational basis, they are left with only their emotional (and stubborn) defense: tradition.

UND has been an institutional case study of rational self vs. emotional self for more than a decade (and probably much longer).  This is ironic, considering Professor Jendrysik's effect on me in a classroom deep in the heart of University (and just across the English Coulee from this afternoon's protest in support of the Fighting Sioux nickname).

Here are the arguments for and against the nickname, briefly.

The Rational Argument

"Sioux," meaning "snake" in French, is a pejorative word used by French-speaking settlers who encountered the native people of the area.  As a pejorative, it is innately offensive.  Since the school can use any nickname it wants for its sports teams, it should use one that isn't innately offensive to the areas' native people.

The Emotional Argument

The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo are a school tradition since the 1930s.  People have a strong emotional tie to them as symbols of school pride.

I'm not going to say the argument over the Fighting Sioux nickname was "won" by the rational argument.  It's pretty clear that if there was a vote, the emotional argument would carry the majority.  However, the NCAA settled the argument  by banning the nickname and logo, handing the rational argument victory by fiat.

Victory by fiat has enraged the emotional argument's supporters.  I understand that they feel like this change has been rammed down their throats.  It has.  It's not surprising that they would respond emotionally and stubbornly dig their heels in the ground, but it's a shame none the less.

Instead of choosing a new symbol around which to unite and moving forward with life, a huge portion of the population of the school would rather proceed with no nickname.  In effect, they're saying that they're so emotionally connected to the "Fighting Sioux" that they cannot exist with a different nickname.

UND's administration cannot allow this.  By proceeding without a new symbol, the school would be tacitly approving the Fighting Sioux nickname.  This has been the administration's approach all along, which has only emboldened the emotional argument's supporters.

UND has allowed the Ralph Englestad Arena's "Sioux Shop" to continue to sell Sioux gear (recently stopped selling jerseys).  The administration allowed the hockey team to include the banned logo in the newly renovated (non-public) hockey team areas in the arena.

It's a shame that people can be so ruled by emotion that they are unable to respond rationally to this situation.  It's a shame they don't realize what they love is the school and their team, not the logo. It's a shame they are so closed off to outside ideas they're incapable of even considering a new nickname.

It's a shame they haven't been in Professor Jendrysik's political philosophy class.  Tradition is not a valid reason to continue a practice.

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DarkKnight5 is a 2008 graduate of the University of North Dakota's College of Business and Public Administration.