USD law school: Hawaiian Day party is offensive. Hawaiian state rep: No it's not.

The University of South Dakota Law School pressured the Student Bar Association to change the name of its Hawaiian Day party.

But a Hawaii state lawmaker says it's not insensitive or offensive at all.

The school said that the name could be interpreted as culturally insensitive.

The University of South Dakota allegedly pressured the Student Bar Association to change the name of its event from “Hawaiian day” to “Beach Day.” However, after first keeping leis in the program, USD later advised against wearing them, calling them “culturally insensitive.”

Now, a Hawaii state representative is accusing some at USD of having “their head stuck in a snowbank.”

Hawaii state Rep. Bob McDermott commented on the situation in a letter to the editor published by the University of South Dakota’s school newspaper, The Volante, and claimed that usage of the leis is not offensive, but honorable.

[RELATED: ‘Hawaiian Day’ party flooded by cultural controversy wave]

“The lei is a symbol of our Aloha spirit in Hawaii, inclusive and welcoming,” McDermott said. “One individual’s objection to its use at a festive event is both patronizing and an insult to our island tradition.”

“It is also a demonstration of ignorance about the cultural significance of the lei,” the state representative added.

McDermott continued by saying that the lei is typically used during joyous events and parties and that states and other parties, like the USD Student Bar Association, are welcome to participate in the tradition.

USD president Sheila Gestring said that USD has opened an investigation to determine if the law school interim administration broke the Board of Regents policy on free speech and intellectual diversity.

[RELATED: Victory for free speech in South Dakota]

“Administrative censorship of student speech and expression is a serious matter and not something USD condones without compelling justification consistent with Board policy, such as a genuine threat,” Gestring said Saturday.

Kevin V. Schieffer, president of the South Dakota Board of Trustees, was pleased by Gestring opening the investigation, according to a press release. 

“The board has made it very clear in policy that neither professors nor administrators can block or unduly interfere with free speech simply because some might find it offensive,” Schieffer said in the press release. “We do no service to our students by indoctrinating them with ‘political correctness’ run amok.” 

The BOR’s general counsel, Nathan Lukkes, also sent a message to South Dakota university presidents stating that the board’s policy does protect “offensive, bigoted, or otherwise distasteful” speech, according to the Argus Leader.

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