2015 may be the year the racist mascot finally dies.
Against the backdrop of a nationwide student anti-racism movement that has spurred protests at Yale, Mizzou, and other schools, many colleges with insensitive, offensive, and overtly racist mascots are being forced to rethink their choices. First, Amherst College students protested their mascot, the "Lord Jeff." A couple of weeks later, scores of UNLV students said they didn't want their Confederate-inspired "Hey Reb!" at football games anymore.
While those protests are far from the first effort to redress their schools' mascots, they represent a symbolic passing of the torch from a powerful, collective effort that sputtered out about a decade ago: In August of 2005, the NCAA took its first formal steps toward ridding its ranks of "hostile" and "abusive" mascots or nicknames by prohibiting any school with such a distinction from playing in NCAA-sanctioned postseason tournaments. In the ensuing years, swaths of schools punted their offensive mascots.
But that doesn't mean that they're all gone.
In fact, there are still at least 26 schools with racist and offensive mascots and nicknames despite, in many cases, vehement attempts by students to change them. Here they are. (If you think we missed one, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Issue: Students see Hey Reb! as a "racist symbol of the Confederacy," the Las Vegas Sun reported. UNLV's mascot was originally named Beauregard and wore a Confederate uniform, but switched in the early '80s to Hey Reb!, a "more general symbol of rebellion," as the Sun puts it.
Amherst's Lord Jeff
The Issue: Named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a 19th century British Army officer who publicly supported Native American genocide. (Amherst faculty recently voted to abolish the mascot.)
San Diego State's Aztec Warrior
The Issue: Their mascot, the Aztec Warrior, "perpetuate(s) harmful stereotypes of Native Americans, including the notion that Native Americans are innately violent, dangerous, and 'savage,'" according to a resolution filed by the SDSU Queer People Of Color Collective.
Nicholls State's Colonel Tillou
The Issue: Back in 2009, alumni protested the fact that Tillou is not only named after Confederate army officer Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls, but that the logo also resembles a "very angry Nazi soldier."
Eastern Kentucky's Colonel
The Issue: An Eastern Kentucky professor wrote in an op-ed in 2013 that the Colonel is "anachronistic" and connects the school to a "bygone era."
The Issue: One alumni wrote that the Vaquero could be "culturally insensitive and ripe with Hispanic stereotypes," according to a San Antonio Express-News report. (Vaquero is Spanish for "cowboy.") One person, on a petition calling for university President Guy Bailey's resignation, wrote "It’s no wonder why they can’t relate to the opinions of our people. They can’t even speak Spanish! Vaqueros was a ‘dandy’ choice for them."
A number of schools managed to keep Native American nicknames after the NCAA's banishment of Native American mascots from postseason tournaments. Though their costumed mascots may not evoke racist imagery, the appropriation of Native American culture continues in the names of their athletic teams. Those schools are:
- Alcorn State University Braves (Lorman, MS)
- Bradley University Braves (Peoria, IL)
- Texas Tech University Red Raiders
- University of Illinois Fighting Illini
- College Of William And Mary Tribe (Williamsburg, VA)
A few schools maintain Native American mascots at the behest of the tribes they're named after. Whether the "approval of the tribe" registers as a legitimate justification for the appropriation of Native American culture depends on who you ask; as Dave Zirin says in this piece about Florida State in The Nation, there may be financial motivations for the leaders of the tribe to sign such an agreement:
For the wealthy and powerful Florida Seminole tribal leaders, the cultural elevation of the football program is a part of their extremely lucrative gaming operation. Defending the school’s use of the name is about defending its brand. That is why the chairman of the Florida Seminole Tribe of Florida, James Billie, said, “Anybody come here into Florida trying to tell us to change the name, they better go someplace else, because we’re not changing the name.”
Those five schools are:
- Florida State University Seminoles (Seminole Tribe Of Florida)
- University of Utah Utes (Ute Indian Tribe)
- Central Michigan University Chippewas (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe)
- Mississippi College Choctaws (Mississippi Band Of Choctaw Indians)
- Catawba College Indians (Salisbury, NC) (Catawba Indian Nation)
In recent years, both Maranatha Baptist University and Susquehanna University have dropped the "Crusaders" nickname after administrators determined that naming their athletic teams after people who murdered thousands of people in the name of Jesus Christ wasn't a great idea. At least eight schools have yet to come to the same conclusion. Those schools are:
- Valparaiso University Crusaders (Valaparaiso, IN)
- Alvernia University Crusaders (Reading, PA)
- College of the Holy Cross Crusaders (Worcester, MA)
- Capital University Crusaders (Columbus, OH)
- University of Dallas Crusaders (Irving, TX)
- University of Mary Hardin–Baylor Crusaders (Belton, TX)
- Northwest Nazarene University Crusaders (Nampa, ID)
- North Greenville University Crusaders (Tigerville, SC)
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.