Insensitive College T-Shirts Reignite Bitter Debate

University of North Dakota students have reignited the bitter debate over using Native American likenesses as college mascots when they created party shirts featuring a Native American chief drinking from a beer bong beneath the slogan, “Siouxuper Drunk.”

Robert Kelley, the UND’s president, said that he “was appalled to learn this weekend that a group of individuals had the poor judgment and lack of awareness and understanding to create and then wear T-shirts that perpetuated a derogatory and harmful stereotype of American Indians.”

He went on to note that the party where the shirts were worn was not an official UND event in an attempt to put distance between the event and the school’s public image, saying “These T-shirts were not worn at a UND function — in fact, the event they are associated with is NOT a university event. They don’t appear to have been worn on UND property, and we are not aware that the group represents any UND organization.”

However, the university’s mascot, the “Fighting Sioux” has long been the subject of controversy. Even a few years ago, the NCAA tried to convince the college to drop its mascot, which the civil rights group deemed offensive. According to the chair of the school’s American Indian Studies Department Sebastian Braun, “There’s a really long history of fighting over the logo and nickname for the university. These T-shirts are just the latest event that connected to that.”

If UND had listened to the public’s criticisms, then perhaps the incident may have never occurred at all.

One party who is partially responsible for the event has come forward and at least issued an apology. CustomInk, the company that was confirmed as the screen printer that manufactured the shirts, issued a statement that explained, “We handle hundreds of thousands of custom t-shirt designs each year and have people review them to catch problematic content. But we missed this one. We apologize for any pain or offense caused by this shirt, and we will continue to improve our review processes to make them better.”

“I don’t think CustomInk or any shirt printer should be held liable for what is being printed,” says Eric Uzelac, Vice President of The Shirt Printer. “If one company says no to a potential customer, then another company will take that order. It’s not our job as shirt printers to decide what can and can not be printed for a customer.”

Stepping back from the incident, there may be a silver lining. Once the images of the shirts went viral, the backlash against them was resounding, which shows that the public is becoming more and more progressive and aware of minority groups’ struggles.

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