The Collegian published a poll on Facebook this weekend: Is “Hobo” Offensive? Many readers expressed concern over the purpose of the poll and story.

Is the use of “hobo” in Hobo Day offensive to homeless people?

More than 270 people responded in a 48-hour period with their opinions to the poll question. And many of them were concerned about the purpose of the poll and the story to go along with it.

We, at The Collegian, are investigating all sides and opinions on a topic that has been brought up to many of our staff members in recent years.

This is an important issue worthy of discussion because a growing number of people from outside of South Dakota associate hobo with homelessness. This means South Dakota State and Hobo Day will be scrutinized on a national level as the campus grows in prominence and it will be more prevalent because more students are coming from a diverse background.

We, at The Collegian, respect the 104-year-old tradition. 

We love to get all hobo-y and attend the week’s events like Bum-A-Meal, Cavorts and the parade. This week’s edition is devoted to Hobo Day. 

We love the festivities just as much as anyone else.

But this was a topic we had to address because it’s been a small, yet consistent, thing being brought to our attention over the years — and it’s growing. We wouldn’t be journalists if we didn’t eventually address it.

Not everyone understands hobo as a vagabond or a wanderer. A lot of people, especially from out of state, connect hobo with the homeless. Homelessness is a real issue in these larger communities and is much more visible than in South Dakota. 

More than half-a-million people are homeless in the United States on any given night and cities like New York and Los Angeles have some of the largest numbers of homeless people, according to a 2015 report from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The definition of hobo has to be explained to many incoming students or people from outside of South Dakota to understand the true use of the word in the Hobo Day celebration.

A majority of the people who have questioned the use of hobo and homelessness are from cities and regions outside of the Midwest.

Many of the things in South Dakota aren’t the norm in other places, so students who come to SDSU from different regions, cities or countries have to learn a new definition of hobo than what they were accustomed to.

And it’s not just students who have questioned the use of hobo. 

The Hobo Day Committee has been approached in the past about it, and other places in the United States have faced opposition to similar events.

A high school in West Virginia was criticized in 2015 for having a hobo dress up day for its homecoming celebration.

Challenges to the use of hobo relate it to the inclusive mission of SDSU as well. People who associate hobo with homelessness see it going against the university’s mission, instead of seeing it as a vagabond and a wanderer.

This type of situation is just going to continue rising to the surface in the coming years, and probably more often based on the society we live in today.

People are now looking at SDSU on a national level (because we’re awesome). So even though students are taught how hobo is used at SDSU, other people from different cities, regions, societies and cultures may not understand it in the same way.

Society is changing, and even though we love our traditions, there are going to be people who will challenge this tradition no matter what.

The fact that there were more than 270 responses to this poll shows just how important Hobo Day is to the people of SDSU. 

Hobo Day is an essential part of being a student at South Dakota State University. This tradition has been going on for 104 years and will continue far beyond that. 

As members of the SDSU community, it is essential for us to see the different views surrounding this issue. 


We asked a question about a topic people have voiced concerns over in the last few years.