Marquette students are no strangers to the debate over our retired Warrior mascot. Alums and students alike hope for a day when we will leave the Golden Eagle behind and return to the mighty Warrior. Despite a failed effort to re-implement the Warrior mascot in 2004, there is no sign of the Warrior’s revival in Marquette’s future.
Nationwide, the topic of stereotypical mascots is a heated one, particularly regarding Native Americans. Last week, a poster attempting to put the racial stereotypes of these mascots into perspective resurfaced on several news websites. The poster presents the Cleveland Indians’ mascot alongside two fictional mascots, the “New York Jews” and the “San Francisco Chinamen,” with similarly caricatured features. Though originally published in 2001, the poster’s message still rings true in 2013: The depiction of Native Americans for many sports teams can be incredibly offensive and stereotypical.
Countless high schools and universities changed their mascots in response to criticism of their discriminative nature.
The Wisconsin Assembly is considering a Republican-proposed bill that would change the way the state responds to accusations of discriminatory school mascots. Currently, Wisconsin law leaves the school district responsible for proving its mascot to be non-discriminatory when an individual claims it as such. The new law would require 10 percent of the district population to support an accusation for the state to take action against a school district. It would place the responsibility of proof on the accuser. Additionally, the Department of Administration would take over the role of conducting meetings from the state superintendent. Though I support the burden of proof lying on the accuser, the the remainder of this legislation seems to be a step back, not forward.
The idea that 10 percent of a district must agree that a mascot is offensive for a claim to be taken seriously is troublesome. If in a district of 20,000 residents only 1,900 find something offensive, that doesn’t make it OK. There are still 1,900 people who are personally troubled by the logo meant to represent their area.
Even if only one person takes issue with a mascot, the responsibility of having to explain why he or she is offended or feels discriminated against makes his or her claim more reliable. Placing the burden of proof on the accuser would help to prevent random accusations. The time commitment of having to clarify why he or she found the mascot to be offensive would demonstrate that the accuser truly is offended by the mascot.
The proposed change of control over the hearings from the superintendent to the Department of Administration is also concerning. The issue of partisanship within the Department of Administration versus supposed non-partisanship from the superintendent is less worrisome than the ability of these respective parties to judge the validity of these claims. Instead, an evaluation committee that included representatives from Wisconsin’s Native American communities would be vital to assess the appropriateness of these mascots as well as the concerns proposed by district citizens.
Marquette may have done away with the Warrior mascot, but other institutions have not. The Wisconsin state legislature must implement an effective process so those who do take offense from these mascots have a clear way to have their concerns addressed.