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Survey Goes Beyond South Dakota Stereotypes

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SDPB
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Results from a new statewide study scratch beneath the surface of South Dakota stereotypes. 

South Dakota Public Broadcasting worked on the study with the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided funding. 

Chiesman Center Director Shane Nordyke started by creating a data report that reflected a popular image of South Dakotans: mostly white, rural and conservative.  

Then she surveyed about 1,000 people across the state and conducted several virtual focus-group interviews. 

“And they represented a lot more diversity than what it was that we saw in that statewide scan,” Nordyke said. 

One example came from focus-group participants in Lemmon. Nordyke said the rural residents near the North Dakota border defied assumptions. 

“They were talking about new art exhibits, and artists who were coming into town,” Nordyke said. “They were talking about new places for tourists to be able to go. And they were talking a lot about opportunities for young professionals.” 

Nordyke also encountered surprising responses from Huron residents. She interviewed high school students whose parents immigrated from Asia to work in meatpacking plants. 

“I kind of had these assumptions that they would say, ‘Ugh, South Dakota,’ or, ‘There’s a lot of corn and a lot of white people.’” Nordyke said. “But that was not their experience. They said, ‘Oh, we love it here.’” 

Nordyke said the students appreciate the safety of their community and the beauty of the natural surroundings. She said they’re also sad about potentially leaving the area for college and careers. 

In Sioux Falls and Vermillion, Nordyke interviewed young women of color. They said there are lower expectations for them than for their white peers.  

“They often experienced that they were told, ‘Oh, well, you don’t need to go to college out of state. You don’t need to retake a test.’” Nordyke said. “Or, ‘This is going to be good enough. You should just be fine and happy with where you’re at.’” 

Nordyke said the survey and focus groups revealed some specific challenges facing tribal communities.  

“We see that respondents who are Native American were less likely to agree that they had access to good quality medical care,” Nordyke said, “or that they were able to afford good quality medical care, by a really significant margin.” 

Funding for the study comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Coming Home initiative. The effort supports deeper understanding of rural places. Nordyke hopes the Chiesman Center study helps people get beyond the typical view of South Dakota as a white, agrarian state. 

“It’s not that that’s not true – it's just that that’s not the whole story,” Nordyke said. “And so I’m hoping that people will feel a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing the greater variation.” 

The data will be released to the public June 1 at sdpb.org