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Christian university ditches ‘Crusader’ mascot because of association with ‘hate groups’

7,700 survey responses apparently not made public in any form

A Lutheran university in Indiana is trying to distance itself from Christian history by phasing out its “Crusader” mascot “over the coming months,” according to Valparaiso University’s interim president.

Colette Irwin-Knott told the community in an email Thursday that a task force she convened “determined the Crusader is not reflective of Valpo’s mission to promote a welcoming and inclusive community.”

Composed of student, faculty, staff, athletics and alumni representatives, its mission was to study the “appropriateness” of the mascot “given historical and modern implications, and whether it aligns with the University’s values,” she wrote, citing its “divisive connotations”:

The task force received approximately 7,700 survey responses from our campus community, alumni, and friends of the University. In light of this feedback and the negative associations to religious oppression, violence, and hate groups, the task force determined the Crusader is not reflective of Valpo’s mission to promote a welcoming and inclusive community.

Valparaiso will “retire the Crusader imagery and logos” and convene a new committee to consider what mascot should replace it, overseen by incoming President José Padilla, Irwin-Knott wrote.

Neither the email nor a university press release on the decision discloses whether the task force produced a report on its findings and recommendations, or whether Valparaiso will publish the 7,700 survey responses in some form. Its website does not bring up such materials in a search for “crusader task force.”

The Chicago Tribune has apparently seen at least some survey results, reporting that more than 80 percent of responses “identified Valparaiso as the university’s dominant brand,” with the Crusader drawing only 2.5 percent.

Irwin-Knott’s Wednesday video explaining her decision, which is linked in the email, is “unlisted” on YouTube, meaning it’s not available from the university’s YouTube page or in search results. The video is mentioned but not linked in the press release.

The interim president claims the mascot has been “under significant scrutiny during the past few decades” for its association with “aggressive religious oppression and violence.” (The Tribune notes that Valparaiso chose the Crusader as a replacement for “the Germanic calvary soldier the uhlan in 1942 because of the rise of Nazi Germany.”)

Irwin-Knott is particularly troubled that the Knights Party of the Ku Klux Klan’s quarterly newspaper is called “The Crusader.” Any symbol that is “associated with hate groups and hate speech” cannot represent the university, she said, without providing more specific boundaries for those terms other than the KKK example.

In the past year, multiple university constituencies asked for at least a review of the Crusader mascot, if not its removal, including the Alumni Association board of directors, Faculty Senate and Student Senate, she said.

Kaitlyn Steinhiser, student body president, appears in the video to say “many students have been eager to see the Crusader retired”:

Mascots are intended to help us show our school spirit and represent Valpo values, rather than be divisive and symbolize negativity. There has been a growing concern from students on campus about how the current Crusader mascot represents us, as well as how it may impact prospective students’ views of our university. We want to see Valpo take this important step to retire this negative symbolism and imagery from the university.

Irwin-Knott closes the video by claiming that a symbol of Christian history doesn’t “align with” its identity as a “faith-based institution.” The word “Christian” does not appear in the email, press release or video:

[L]et me also reassure you that our faith and core values remain steadfast. With that foundation, the unique Valpo experience is at the nexus of faith and learning. This foundation and our rich history will not change – only our mascot will.

Valparaiso is relatively late to ditching a mascot that reflects its purported Christian identity. Idaho’s Northwest Nazarene and Pennsylvania’s Alvernia University dropped “Crusader” in 2017, as did Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna in 2015 and Wisconsin’s Maranatha Baptist in 2014.

Closer to Valparaiso, Wheaton College in Illinois – sometimes called the evangelical Harvard – dropped “Crusaders” all the way back in 2000, according to the Tribune.

Read the press release and Tribune report.

MORE: Christian college drops ‘Crusader’

IMAGE: Valpo Crusader/Twitter

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.