- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2016

“Fighting Missionaries” may seem like an innocuous school mascot to some, but Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, decided to drop the nickname earlier this month after a special committee said it was “divisive” and a vestige of an “imperialistic” past.

“The mascot is offensive to many members of the Whitman community because it can be interpreted as honoring the imperialistic policies and actions of the western movement in North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” the Working Mascot Group said in its report.

But the school will still be called Whitman College, despite that its namesakes Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were 19th-century missionaries. They traveled along the Oregon Trail and founded a mission to the Cayuse tribe in the Walla Walla Valley in 1836.

The irony — that the word “missionary” will be retired but the name of the actual missionary will remain — was not lost on several discontented members of the Whitman community.

“Ultimately, I can deal with the loss of a mascot,” Matt Nelson, a member of the Class of 1999, said in an open letter to college President Kathleen Murray. “But if you were to be consistent, you would also recognize that even more offensive and insidious is the name of the college itself.”

Although mascot melees more often have concerned school teams named for Native American tribes — such as at North Dakota State University, where the mascot was changed from the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks in 2015 — religiously affiliated mascots have come under similar scrutiny.

The crusade against religious mascots has mostly involved schools nicknamed “Crusaders.” But others, such as “Preachers” and “Fighting Christians,” have similarly provoked offense.

Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, for instance, changed its mascot from the “Crusaders” to the “Lions” in 2009.

“When ENC and many other Christian colleges first adopted the Crusader mascot, the term was perceived much more positively,” college President Corlis McGee said at the time. “In today’s world, the term often carries a negative connotation, and there was a growing awareness among ENC students, faculty and alumni that the Crusader no longer represented the positive message of Christian love we aim to share with the world.”

The former Whitman mascot, known as Marc Missionary, was an easier target. A white pioneer complete with a long gun, Bible and unnamed female companion, Marc didn’t stand a chance against a university culture where “microaggressions” are ubiquitous and “safe spaces” scarce.

Jerry Zahl, who sits on the Whitman College Farms Committee, said the decision to remove the mascot erases school tradition and conveys a sense of ingratitude for those who came before us.

“I am so thankful for all that people went through to have what we might enjoy today, you know?” Mr. Zahl said. “And I like to honor and respect and give thanks to those who worked for what we might enjoy today. To me that is very important. I don’t see any reason to change things that have traditional value.”

The Whitman student newspaper, The Pioneer, announced earlier this year it also would change its name for similar reasons.

Mr. Zahl said that if people were less interested in seeking out grievances and victimization, such terms could be viewed through a charitable lens that comport with the college’s greater liberal arts mission.

“There’s no reason why any of us, whether we’re involved in agriculture, journalism, science, music, you name it — we all could be pioneers or missionaries in what we do,” he said.

“I just think there’s too much foolishness around the nation right now of little things that might offend, you know?” he said. “Quit whining, move ahead, and if you’re gonna whine, get out of line.”

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