Discourse / Editorials / November 12, 2009

Bigotry in the name of tradition?

I was very disappointed upon returning to Knox for homecoming to find prominent and apparently college-sanctioned displays of the obsolete mascot “Old Siwash” around campus. The mascot was changed to the Prairie Fire over 15 years ago, due to concerns about its political correctness. Siwash as a word finds its origins in Northwestern trading jargon, and comes from the French word for “savage.” It was used as a deprecation, and is equivalent as an insult towards Native Americans as the N word is to African Americans. While the term may have been applied to Knox in good fun and without hurtful intentions (a former Knox student referred to Knox as Old Siwash in a hugely popular fictionalized and romanticized account of college life back in the 1920s and 30s and the nickname stuck around until 1993) that does not change the word’s meaning or derogative past. I understand that many alumni have fond recollections of supporting “Good Old Siwash” during their college years and that Knox is most likely appeasing them in an effort to continue collecting their donations. However, this is a poor excuse for condoning an offensive racial slur. As a progressive institution, Knox is one of the last places I would expect overt racism to occur, but for some reason the administration is willing to turn a blind eye to this particular transgression as long as it placates petulant alumni donors who are stubbornly unwilling to accept the fact that our school’s former mascot was offensive and unacceptable, and that there are no excuses for using these kinds of words in today’s world. If the mascot had been a hateful and ignorant reference to any other minority group, I doubt Knox would continue to use it whether or not alumni protested. I do not understand why using a term that derogates Native people is somehow more acceptable. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and this treatment includes the words we use to describe them. Not all aspects of history are ones which ought be celebrated. I believe that Siwash is one such chapter in Knox’s history.

I know that I, for one, am ashamed to see this word displayed around campus, and as long as Knox remains a place to which I would be embarrassed to recommend my Native American friends the office of alumni affairs will not be seeing any future donations from me.

Iona Cooper

Class of 2009

Iona Cooper


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