Monday, February 24, 2020

Sparty corrected for bad behavior

Taping footage for a mascot competition has led to an educational opportunity for the Student Alumni Foundation.

Members from the Council of Students with Disabilities said they were offended when MSU mascot Sparty was seen wandering through the Union with a white cane and referee's jersey last Wednesday.

The stunt was intended to be "the blind ref gag," according to foundation coordinators, a piece that would go into a yearly mascot competition video.

"The statement they were making was about a referee," foundation adviser Bev VandenBerg said, adding that the students involved in the videotaping didn't realize their actions were offensive. "They felt badly afterwards."

Council of Students with Disabilities President Kim Borowicz wrote a letter to the editor in The State News the following day, saying the group was being "stereotyped, mocked and harassed by a symbol of the university."

Keith Williams, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, said he's sure the students weren't being malicious.

"I know these students," he said. "When I look at the Sparty program, I know where they are in terms of sensitivity."

Williams said discrimination is against everything Sparty represents. He said Sparty visits sick children in the hospital and has other engagements each week.

"He's not just a sports figure," he said.

Despite the original intentions, members of the council made several demands of the foundation. The council asked the foundation to issue an apology, to cut the "blind referee" footage from the application video and to let members of the council view the final product.

Other MSU students said they didn't see Sparty at the Union, but they would have been offended.

"Sparty represents our school by the way he looks," East Asian languages and cultures senior Teresa Wang said. "He shouldn't be joking about something that's serious to some people."

The Student Alumni Foundation and the MSU Alumni Association said they were quick to respond to the incident by preparing a letter to The State News and forming apologies.

But Borowicz said she didn't hear anything from anyone until late Monday.

"It's really frustrating that we haven't heard from anyone after leaving messages and calling, that they're waiting to tell the entire group," said Borowicz, who is legally blind.

Williams attended the council meeting Monday night.

"He was very receptive," council Vice President Melinda Haus said. "He apologized and said he will meet our demands." Haus said members of the foundation also have agreed to attend a sensitivity training program to learn more about discrimination.

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