May 1, 2017
FOCUS ON COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES

In renaming debate, Holy Cross weighs tradition vs. institutional mission

Although Crusader memorabilia is available, the Holy Cross campus bookstore largely offers items with just "Holy Cross" as college identifier.
PHOTO/COURTESY
In its NCAA basketball tournament win last year, Holy Cross featured uniforms devoid of the Crusader name.

The College of the Holy Cross can look back with great pride 70 years ago when its Crusaders won the national basketball championship, a feat all but impossible in today's powerhouse-dominated college athletics.

Yet, the Crusaders name is associated with something the college doesn't care for quite so much: the Crusades holy wars in the Middle Ages. Because of these negative associations, the name may be eliminated as the college takes a closer look at it and what it means.

"There are good and compelling reasons to keep the name, and there are good and compelling reasons to replace it," said Mark Freeman, an ethics and society professor at Holy Cross.

"This is one of the things that makes the situation as complicated as it is," Freeman said. "There are lots of constituencies involved, and it's very likely that there are lots of differences not only between them but also within them."

The choice in what Holy Cross wants to embrace has created a dilemma, said David Gerzof Richard, a marketing and branding expert and faculty member at Emerson College in Boston.

"You can embrace tradition, and that's what it is, or say, 'Look, times have changed, and there's a more global perspective to how we approach things,'" he said. "Neither one ... is the right or the wrong call."

Holy Cross begins an examination of whether the Crusader name should be erased starting this fall, with input from students, faculty, alumni and others.

Holy Cross history, for better or worse

The potential change came after a committee last year looked into the pasts of Thomas Mulledy, the founding president of Holy Cross, and James Healy, the first valedictorian.

The committee found Mulledy sold 272 slaves when he was a leader at Georgetown University in the 1830s. Healy's family owned slaves when they lived in Georgia, and proceeds from selling slaves helped pay to rebuild Fenwick Hall at Holy Cross when it burned down in 1852.

Both had Holy Cross dorm buildings named after them. Healy's name will stay because of contributions he and his brother, Patrick, made to the school, said President Philip Boroughs. Mulledy Hall is now Brooks-Mulledy Hall, named also for John Brooks, a Holy Cross president for 24 years who actively recruited minority students.

The committee suggested a closer look at the Crusader name and knight-and-sword logo, which it called "distinctly out-of-step with our stated institutional mission." Boroughs hasn't committed to a new athletics name beyond gauging public input.

"The question of 'Who we are' sounds simple in some ways, but it's not," said Freeman. "The complexities are bound to come out. I think that's a good thing, a potentially healthy thing."

Kevin Madigan, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School, said those involved in the Crusades – Western Christians, Jews, Eastern Christians and Muslims – now see those wars in a negative or, at best, ambivalent way.

The Crusades were seen at the time as vital to the survival of Eastern Christianity, Madigan said, because other religions were infringing on land they saw as Christian.

"It was thus considered then a just and, launched by the papacy out of motives then regarded as charitable and religious, holy war, whose ends were willed by God," he said.

Athletics teams choose intimidating sounding names, Richard said. Leagues are filled with Lions, Wildcats and similar names, but that mindset has a limit.

"If a cricket team was named the Jihadis, I think the sensitivity would change," Richard said.

Picking a new tradition

Holy Cross would be the latest in a line of colleges moving away longtime names now seen as insensitive or worse.

Just last year, Amherst College switched to the nickname Mammoths from the Lord Jeffs, named after Jeffery Amherst, a colonial commander who gave the host town its name but once suggested Native Americans be given blankets infected with smallpox.

States like New Hampshire, New York and Minnesota have come out against school districts using Native American names. Natick High School changed from Redmen to Redhawks five years ago.

Holy Cross wouldn't be the first to do away with the name Crusaders. Eastern Nazarene College, a small school in Quincy, changed to the Lions in 2009 after school leaders decided the connotation of the name had changed.

Northwest Christian University in Oregon switched to the Beacons in the 1990s after finding that the Crusaders name, "although beloved, carried negative connotations as well as positive ones," said Joseph Womack, the school's president.

At the time, the 1989 alumnus said he was against the change. Womack has come to appreciate the new name since, saying Beacons "does a better job of conjuring feelings of good intentions toward the sharing of faith and example of Christ in our world."

Other schools and teams have stuck with tradition. Tennessee Temple University, a small Christian school, is the Crusaders. The Florida State Seminoles have stayed put with support from the eponymous tribe.

In professionall sports, the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians have stuck with an unpopular name and logo, respectively, despite years of opposition.

The student paper & the KKK

Holy Cross' student newspaper, The Crusader, began considering a name change after 48 faculty members signed a petition urged the consideration, because the newspaper of the KKK uses the same name.

Sam Arciprete, the newspaper's chief opinions editor, said the KKK paper's name indicated the word's meaning.

"That fact alone would make you reconsider the name," he wrote in the Holy Cross paper.

"If the name of the newspaper is somehow disenfranchising or alienating sections of students on campus, as a KKK newspaper would, then we have a responsibility to change the name to something that is inclusive of all students here on The Hill."

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