North Dakota State University is investigating complaints about a campus skit in which a white student in blackface portrayed Barack Obama receiving a lap dance.
The same skit, part of a charity fundraiser held at a campus theater, also featured a depiction of cowboys having sex with each other, witnesses told The Forum newspaper, which first reported the backlash Friday.
"We're trying to find out the right approaches for accountability, but at the same time try to heal wounds that have occurred and allow the campus to move ahead," Janna Stoskopf, NDSU's dean of students, told The Associated Press on Friday.
The March 18 skit involving the NDSU Saddle and Sirloin Club was performed at the Mr. NDSU Pageant, which is sponsored by the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and raises money for diabetes research.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the club, a coed group for students interested in agriculture, have publicly apologized for their actions. The sorority, which put on the event but wasn't part of the skit, also apologized.
People who attended it said a pageant contestant from Saddle and Sirloin dressed as a woman from the Internet video "I Got a Crush on Obama" and performed a strip tease for another student, who was wearing dark makeup and an afro wig.
In the background, two male students dressed as cowboys simulated anal sex while holding an Obama sign that one student ripped at the conclusion of the 30-second performance, the Forum reported.
"That seems to be consistent with what's been described to me," Stoskopf said.
The Star Tribune reports that Josh Boschee, NDSU's coordinator of Greek life, said the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators had specifically addressed blackface among college students at its last convention.
"It is pretty typical on college campuses," Boschee told the paper. "The hard part is recognizing that the students that were a part of this, I don't believe were intentionally malicious. But the impact of their actions was malicious. It ended up affecting our community in a not-so-positive way.''
University President Joseph Chapman said the campus will work to ensure such incidents do not occur.
"The students involved have accepted responsibility for their actions and expressed deep remorse," he said in a statement.
"NDSU does not and will not ignore acts of intolerance at our institution or in our community."
The Obama campaign had no comment Friday. Obama is to speak at North Dakota Democrats' state convention in Grand Forks next week.
Josh Reimnitz, who is the NDSU student body president and saw the skit, called it "totally tasteless" and said he and other audience members were shocked.
"Honestly, I still don't know what the intention of the skit was," he said. "It was very silent, and there were some boos. People were looking at each other, not knowing how to act."
Messages left by the AP for Russell Danielson, adviser of the Saddle and Sirloin Club, and Malika Carter, an NDSU assistant director of multicultural student services were not immediately returned.
"It doesn't matter if you're rural. It doesn't matter if you're from Fargo or Beulah, N.D.," said Joy Rice, a black Fargo resident and a member of the city's human relations commission. "You still need to respect people of color, in all aspects of life. This is a form of racism, and it's really taking a step back."
The skit follows a complaint filed against a sorority at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where guests wore Indian costumes and red paint on their faces and bodies.
"This falls into the same category," Rice said of the NDSU skit. "It's just as bad."
Stoskopf said she expected the investigation could take until May 9, the end of the school year.
"One of the issues here is how do we balance what our policies and expectations about behavior are with the issue of freedom of speech," Stoskopf said. "Where does all of that get us?"
NDSU has 10,403 undergraduates. The student body is 92 percent white, while 1.5 percent identify themselves as black or African-American.