After passing through South Dakota’s House, a bill to ensure that freedom of expression and intellectual diversity be protected at all of South Dakota’s campuses died in the Senate State Affairs Committee on February 27 by a vote of 6-3.
On the same day that the decision was passed, there was a free speech controversy at the University of South Dakota (USD). The Student Bar Association had planned a “Hawaiian Day” event for which students would wear floral shirts and be given leis. The organizers of the event were informed by university administrators that the “Hawaiian Day” was offensive, and in turn changed the name to “Beach Day” and retracted the use of leis.
The incident has drawn criticism and commentary throughout the South Dakota press. Hawaii State Rep. Bob McDermott chimed in, rejecting the idea that wearing leis is offensive: “The lei is a symbol of our Aloha spirit in Hawaii, inclusive and welcoming . . . It is part of who we are in Hawaii and we are happy to share it.”
USD president Sheila Gestring has called for an investigation into whether the administration’s actions violated the policies of the Board of Regents regarding freedom of expression. Board President Kevin V. Schieffer has stated that he supports the investigation.
Following the “Hawaiian Day” debacle, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 to reconsider the bill on Wednesday, March 6.