SD Board of Regents approves ‘minors on campus’ policy following drag show controversy

May 10, 2023

The South Dakota Board of Regents unanimously approved a policy Tuesday responding to public concerns about minors attending a drag show on a college campus.

“We threaded the needle between state statute and First Amendment issues or potential challenges,” said board president Tim Rave. “This is a good first step with the framework in place.”

Makenzie Huber with South Dakota Searchlight reports that drag shows were not mentioned during the meeting and are not specifically mentioned in the policy, but the effort is a response to concerns about a drag show that was advertised as “kid friendly” last year by a student organization at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

The board, which oversees the state’s public universities, directed staff to begin developing the policy in December. The board approved the first reading of the policy in March and approved the policy with slight changes on Tuesday.

The policy is intended to “take affirmative steps to safeguard and protect the well-being of minors visiting campus, attending university-sponsored events and programs, or participating in external organization programs and activities that utilize campus facilities.” The policy would add some new requirements for universities and codify some practices that are already in place.

Language in the policy bars non-student minors from attending programs that include “content that is patently offensive to prevailing community standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors.”

The policy says non-student minors generally cannot be in university facilities without a valid purpose or express permission, and must be under supervision of an authorized chaperone or legal guardian. And if they fail to comply, they may be immediately removed.

The policy says programming attended by non-student minors may not include activities sexual in nature, obscene live conduct, or anything deemed harmful to minors. Content descriptors, such as warnings before a TV show or movies saying “may contain explicit content,” will also be used for programs that are open to minors but may include nudity, sexual situations, violence or other explicit content.

“It’s giving those who might want to attend appropriate notice of the nature of the event” so they can decide whether to attend, said Nathan Lukkes, the board’s chief of staff.

Authorized adults participating in university programs with non-student minors must not have one-on-one contact with minors, except in limited circumstances and in the open. Additionally, they must not take pictures of minors except for official pictures of the program and only with parental or legal guardian consent.

The policy also declares that a “program leader” must be appointed for any youth programs. They are responsible for ensuring the policy is obeyed, including certifying background checks have been conducted for adults involved in the program. For youth programs, all authorized adults must pass a criminal background check and a sex offender registry check.

Non-compliance with the policy may result in program suspension, discontinuation or cancellation.

Months after the complaints that motivated the policy and the presence of a large crowd at a prior meeting where it was discussed, Lukkes said the policy is “favorably received.”

Several universities had input in the drafting of the policy, including SDSU, where the controversy began.

“I feel very confident that this will certainly help us manage the challenges we faced last fall,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said during the teleconference meeting. “It probably won’t eliminate them. … It’s been a very sound process and we look forward to its implementation.”