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Leave the Mascot Unmolested - November 2017

posted Nov 25, 2017, 9:09 AM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Claude Hanley '18

"Do you want to aggravate alumni? Because this is how you aggravate alumni." So one of The Fenwick Review’s founders remarked when the College announced it was reconsidering the Crusader mascot. It’s a good point; the tangible benefits of deep-sixing the mascot are negligible. Changing the mascot isn’t going to make "U.S. News and World Report: like us any more. Nor, indeed, was it ever going to attract more qualified students or faculty. Having the discussion at all was bound to divide the student body, cut into donations to the College, and generally make people mad. From the student’s perspective, it doesn’t seem all that significant: why on earth do most students care what our sports teams call themselves? Because it touches to realities that are crucially significant: the Catholic identity of the College, the meaning of our particular traditions, and what Holy Cross calls us to be. In light of those realities, the Board of Trustees ought to make the obvious decision: preserve the mascot unchanged, and then leave the issue buried.

First, the Crusader is a visible sign of the College’s Catholic identity, one of the last ones remaining. “Crusade,” as many others have noted, derives from the medieval Latin cruciare, meaning “to mark with the Cross.” The mascot reminds us that we are a community distinguished by the Cross of Christ, and so affirms the religious identity of the place. The point holds even for the non-Catholics in the community: as students and instructors at a Catholic, Jesuit College, all of us are indelibly marked by the Cross. It clarifies the purpose of our studies, too. As it says over Dinand Library, “In order that they might know You, the One True God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” The mascot affirms the beliefs that lay behind this college’s founding. Without flinching, it endorses the faith which built, shaped, and guides this College. The mascot defines who we are, and why we do what we do. If we abandon it, we compromise our mission and identity as a Catholic College.

Second, the Crusader is part of a long tradition of this College, even separate from its connection to our religious tradition. For nearly a century, the students of this College have called themselves Crusaders. It has grown into the life and image that Holy Cross projects. Speakers have addressed incoming classes and graduating seniors with this epithet. It has shaped the way we understand ourselves as students and graduates of the College of the Holy Cross. It is part of the glue that holds the students body and the alumni community together. It is literally the name we give ourselves. The Crusader gives voice to what we have in common, a symbol of the lives which we have lived on Mount Saint James. It is one of many things which makes Holy Cross a distinct community, not a bland, soul-sucking bastion of secular Academe.

We have heard it said that the Crusader is not a model to imitate. It summons us to a life of interreligious violence (quoth the detractors, at least). The student body is not dense enough to believe that, and never has been. Our graduates do not take up the swords to reclaim the Holy Land. Instead, they leave here as men and women of principle, determined to combat injustice, raise up the poor, and spread their faith. While the vast majority of those alumni have been Catholics, the argument applies to people of all faiths and none. The mascot calls us to work tirelessly to transform the world, in spite of injustice and persecution. Holy Cross graduates can see in the mascot a call to live our lives for others. There can be few greater models.

These are strong arguments; surely, the opposition has an equal case? No. Once we bypass the feigned hand-wringing of a short list of students and faculty, we find a single, patronisingly therapeutic argument. It takes two forms. First, current students (particularly Muslim and Jewish students) may be grievously discomforted by the mascot, to the point of being estranged from the community. Second, prospective students will be made to feel unwelcome, and so deny the College its desired diversity quotient. These are, in reality, a single argument: some hypothetical person might somehow be slightly upset, so shatter the icons.

What utter drivel. First, in my four years here, I have not heard a student complain that the mascot made him or her feel uncomfortable. Nor have I read a single article in any campus publication making such a claim. This is to be expected. Look at two archetypal symbols that actually cause distress, the Nazi flag and the burning cross. First, each of them can be interpreted exactly one way in the modern imaginary; nobody imagines that “Nazi” means anything other than “perpetrator of ethnic cleansing.” Second, each of them symbolizes a horror so recent and dreadful that it towers over our cultural imagination. We don’t need to be told that Auschwitz was terrible; a shiver runs down our neck at the very word.

Take those criteria and evaluate the Crusader. Can it mean something other than “Christian holy warrior of the Middle Ages” in our modern lexicon? Obviously; thumb through a newspaper on any given day. You’ll read about crusades against drunk driving, crusades against political correctness, and crusades against cancer. You won’t find medieval holy wars outside of the book reviews. Do the Crusades symbol a horror that towers over our cultural imagination? No; they were far too long ago, and far too historically complicated. Furthermore, it is both disgraceful and deceitful to compare the Crusades with Dachau; one was a war, the other a genocide. The Crusades are too far away, too historically contested, and already redefined. More than that, there is not a shred of evidence that the mascot encourages disdain for or violence toward Muslims. There is no reason that the symbol should distress anyone.

So the problem is not discomfort, nor is it any kind of violence. If we objected to violent or aggressive mascots entirely, hardly any College’s mascot would be safe; they are intended to suggest dominance, aggression, and violence. No, the issue is the Faith. Behind the therapeutic argle-bargle lurks hardboiled academic secularism, which dreams of a day when the Crosses will come down and the chapel be bulldozed for a parking lot. It is a scorn for the faith that built this institution, and for the loyal alumni who still love it.

The Crusader must remain. It testifies without fear to the Catholic faith and tradition that define this school, no less today than one hundred years ago. It has become its own tradition, an ineradicable part of the experience of Mount Saint James. It is remembered fondly by many alumni, who still call themselves Crusaders. It calls us to live for more than just ourselves -- ideally in the sign of the Cross, but in other fashions too. Against these arguments, we find a therapeutic mindset that treats students like glass, whose logic rapidly falls apart. In reality, though, the fight over the mascot is just another battle in a longer war. It is a war to strip the College of the Cross, to throw out its old traditions, and change its very nature. So leave the mascot unmolested, and restore the things that really matter.