The move to do away with San Diego State University’s Aztec mascot has resurfaced, taking opponents and even some supporters by surprise.
The latest gyration in the yearslong dispute occurred Tuesday night when the University Senate overwhelmingly voted to retire the Aztec Warrior and related symbols, 52-14.
Just seven months ago the Associated Students council agreed to keep the mascot and logo by a narrow vote of 14-12.
The Senate resolution, which is non-binding and is an advisory to the university president, called to do away with the human representation of an Aztec and the use of spears or other “weapons that connote barbaric representations of the Aztec culture.”
The San Diego State’s “SD” logo incorporates a spear.
The Senate also called for creating a task force to investigate and make recommendations about the appropriateness of the continued usage of the Aztec moniker.
The University Senate is composed of professors, lecturers, a coach, staff members, students, the provost, a dean, administrators and others.
The vote, and the margin, took people by surprise on both sides of the issue, including the lecturer who submitted the original resolution.
“I was so blown away at the outcome of the vote,” said American Indian Studies lecturer Ozzie Monge, who submitted a version of the resolution to the Senate’s Diversity, Equity and Outreach Committee. “I thought it was going to be close. Frankly, I thought it was going to be tabled.”
Fred Pierce, who was president of the SDSU Alumni Association in 1997, said he learned about the vote through a series of concerned e-mails he got immediately after Tuesday’s meeting.
“This appears to me to be a bit of a rush to judgment,” he said.
The Daily Aztec, the student news organization, quoted Senate Chair Marcie Bober-Michel, a professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies, as saying she was confident the resolution would not be approved by interim university President Sally Roush, but still would send a message and begin a discussion.
Roush could approve or reject the resolution, adopt it in part, or pass it on to the new president after he or she is selected.
On Wednesday, the school issued a state in response to the vote, but offered little insight into what might happen next.
“SDSU is proud of its long-standing commitment to the shared governance process, of which the University Senate is a part,” the statement read. “There can be no question that all viewpoints regarding SDSU’s Aztec identity have a right to be respectfully heard and carefully considered. This resolution provides an opportunity for dialogue to continue among all stakeholders in the SDSU community — including faculty, students, staff, and alumni.”
Monge called the vote “a small step in the right direction.”
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “I think it means it’s time we have a serious talk about this. That’s really everything I wanted to set out from the beginning, to get people to think and talk about this.”
Pierce said keeping the Aztec mascot was of paramount importance to a strong majority of alumni.
“It seems every few years a small number of students led by a lecturer brings up the issue in what seems to be an unfounded basis,” he said. “It’s really bad when political correctness goes overboard.”
Many schools and teams in recent years have dropped mascots that depict different cultures among growing objections that they are insensitive and racist. While the Aztec mascot hasn’t been retired, the school has responded by making some changes to the image, including dropping the old Monty Montezuma mascot in favor of an Ambassador Montezuma in 2002.
The ambassador, seen as a more authentic but uninspiring image of an Aztec, did not go over well. The school adopted the Aztec Warrior two years later.
Pierce said much research went into revising the mascot into the Aztec Warrior, which he called a revered figure in Aztec culture, and he said it was highly disappointing that the Senate did not take the research into consideration.
Roberto Hernández, associate professor of the SDSU Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and a member of the Diversity, Equity and Outreach Committee, said the problem is not in whether the depiction is authentic, but that it involves using a people as a mascot.
“Just the very idea has been a long-standing debate, and most universities have come to their senses in recognizing the racist implication of having people as mascots,” he said. “But in that regard, San Diego State has been a holdout.”
Hernández said he doesn’t think Roush will adopt the resolution, but he does think the Senate’s vote will have an impact on the ongoing search for a new president.
“It sends a very strong signal to the incoming president of where the faculty lie on this issue, that this is the time to rid ourselves of this mascot once and for all,” he said.
While the margin of the vote came as a bit of a shock, Hernández said he wasn’t surprised the resolution passed.
“It speaks to the overwhelming shift in the tide,” he said. “There’s an increasing knowledge about the history of the mascot and people coming to their senses that this is wrong.”
SDSU alumnus Carlos Gutierrez, who played Monty Montezuma from 1990 to 1998, called the Senate vote a “grave mistake.”
“I think they’re overblowing it,” he said about the people opposed to the mascot. “It will never go away until this leftist, radical group gets what they want. They’re going to kick and scream and yell and come up with race as their underlying cry because they were mistreated back in time.”
Like Pierce, Gutierrez said the Aztec Warrior is a dignified and proud representation of the Aztec culture, and people who are opposed to it should focus their energy on doing more productive things, such as helping their communities or the homeless.
He suggested that the university president call for a vote of the people, including current and past students, to decide whether the mascot should stay.
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