Freshman Eli Adams has been on campus for less than two months and already raised over $1,000 for a cause she believes in: eradicating the presence of Old Siwash at Knox.
“Siwash was something that I heard about pretty quickly when coming to the school,” Adams said. “It was something that really outraged me when I heard about it.”
The funds, raised on GoFundMe in eight days, will be used to purchase Knox gear from the campus bookstore, she said.
During Homecoming, Adams plans to set up a table near the alumni who return each year to distribute Siwash paraphernalia and offer her supplies to anyone willing to take a Siwash item and trade it in.
But Adams isn’t the only member of the Knox community looking for new ways to impact the conversation around the school’s former mascot. The Center for Intercultural Life decided to hold a panel this Wednesday to discuss Siwash history and the college’s choice to revoke its mascot status in 1993.
“As our students come in, and we’re further removed from the history of the change of our nickname, there’s less understanding of the background,” said Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez. “The panel really was to help spread the awareness to the student body to prepare them for those conversations amongst each other.”
While she sees opening the conversation up to alumni as a future possibility, Cervantez explained that her office prepared the event for current students, the members of the community whom the CIL serves.
The panel, comprising Distinguished Chair in History Catherine Denial, Associate Professor of History Konrad Hamilton and Director of Athletics Chad Eisele, was formed to discuss the name’s history and broader social context.
“You still have native nicknames being used in high schools … or for professional teams,” she said. “But you also have other parallel conversations going on around the nation. The Confederate Flag is a perfect example.”
Denial, who presented to the board of trustees in 2009 on the college’s choice to retire Siwash at the request of former president Roger Taylor, hopes to improve campus dialogue between current and former students.
“We should have these conversations in a spirit of generosity, but I also think that it’s very important that we hold firm and we make it clear why it’s not appropriate now,” Denial said, citing the term’s derogatory connotation.
While its association with campus is rooted in a novel from the 1920s about a liberal arts college based on Knox, Denial explained that the word itself is Chinook jargon: lingo comprised of Chinook, French and English utilized by fur traders in the Northwest. It originally designated membership to a Native American nation.
“But over time, it gained a derogatory meaning and Northwest Indian nations … prefer that it not be used,” said Denial, who also teaches a class on Native American history that concludes with a unit on present-day mascots and racial slurs.
Denial cited examples that Knox’s administration has taken to put the name to rest over the years. They include banning the alum who distributes gear from campus. One year, she said, another alum brought Siwash pennants for class pictures; Knox decided not to publish any of the photos.
Sophomore Miranda Corbett planned on attending the panel, which she heard about through Student Senate. “Last year, I felt like I didn’t know about [the issue] and so I want to be more informed,” she said.
Educating the student body is Adams’ goal, too.
“As long as we educate the kids that are here currently and the more recent alumni, I’ll consider that successful,” she said.
Adams herself learned about the former mascot from upperclassmen and from campus social justice organizations like Students Against Sexism in Society. At the very least, she planned on participating in this year’s protest of the Siwash booth.
But the success of Adams’ GoFundMe page – which bears individual donations ranging from $5 to $100 and comments like “Smash racism where it stands” – has surprised her.
Adams became active in social justice at her high school in Crystal Lake, Ill., but never on this scale nor with administrative support, she said. It was Vice President of Student Development Tom Stafford who suggested she buy in bulk at a discount in the bookstore with the funds she’d received from Knox students and friends and family back home.
“This isn’t even mine anymore,” said Adams. “This is everybody’s now.”