Whitman drops 'missionary' mascot because religious connotations are bad for business

Whitman College has elected to change the name of its school’s mascot from “missionaries” to something more “appropriately inclusive.”

“Bottom line – the mascot is offensive to many members of the Whitman community because it can be interpreted as honoring the imperialistic policies and actions of the western movement in North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, as indicated by Native American students and alumni responding to the survey, it is also offensive to members of the Native American cultures whose ancestors were the victims of that movement,” a working group tasked with surveying the student population wrote in its recommendation to Whitman president Kathleen Murray.

The working group surveyed 18,000 Whitman alums and current students, 62 percent of whom agreed that “missionary” is no longer an appropriate mascot for their school.

Among other reasons, the working group concluded that the word’s religious connotations were inappropriate for a secular school, and even argued that something less religious would benefit the school financially.

Notably, the school served as a Christian seminary for over 20 years before it was converted into a four-year, degree-granting institution.

“Again, regardless of one’s opinion as to the appropriateness of the mascot, 58% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that ‘Missionaries’ has religious imagery that is not appropriate for a secular college,” the working group said. “In addition, members of the college administration indicate that, in some cases, this has been a problem in attracting highly-qualified potential applicants. The connotation gets in the way of the college accurately representing itself in the marketplace.”

Although the Whitmans did hope to evangelize to their Native American counterparts, their main priority was to “be useful” and cater to the medical needs of the Cayuse tribe, who they were later murdered by for allegedly causing an influx of white settlers in the region. The settlers carried with them a deadly case of measles, which resulted in the death of many members of the Cayuse tribe.

Now, President Murray has endorsed the decision, confirming that the school’s former mascot was not “appropriately inclusive and welcoming.”

“…I decided that it was time to ask whether our college mascot was appropriately inclusive and welcoming to today’s Whitman community,” she wrote. “After a thorough process that took into account the feedback of thousands of alumni, the Mascot Working Group reached a unanimous decision that the Missionary mascot is not the appropriate mascot for our college today. I and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees have endorsed that recommendation.”

Meanwhile, the editorial board of Whitman’s student newspaper has also decided it will no longer be referred to as “The Pioneer.” The old name, the editors said, connoted white supremacy while celebrating a savage history of pillaging Native American lands.

“According to this story of the pioneers, they arrived in an empty and savage land. In reality, they were coming into the homelands of the Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla and other peoples who have inhabited this land for as long as any can remember,” they wrote.

Then, they announced that a name-change would help the paper move away from these traditional narratives and their colonial undertones.

“Critically engaging in Whitman College’s past, and, in particular, its relationship to settler-colonialism and white supremacy in the Inland Northwest, is extremely important,” they said. “By changing the newspaper’s name, we hope to encourage greater discussion and engagement with this history and move away from the traditional Whitman narrative.”

(H/T: Christian Daily)

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