Tuesday, October 27, 2015

University Board Votes to Move Away from “Crusader”

A LycomingFootball.com file photo.
SELINSGROVE, Pa. —The Susquehanna University Board of Trustees on Monday voted to replace the “Crusader,” the university’s longtime nickname and mascot, with a new name and mascot to be determined after consulting with alumni, students, faculty and staff. The board’s decision follows the recommendation of Susquehanna President L. Jay Lemons, who has spent the past several weeks in conversations around Crusader with members of the Susquehanna community.

The Crusader name, which was first used by a Philadelphia sports writer in 1924, was a reference to then-Susquehanna athletic director Luther Grossman’s “crusade” to bring integrity to intercollegiate athletics. Many critics of the term Crusader feel that connotations of the word—related to the medieval Crusaders who used violence in the name of religion—are at odds with the university’s increasing diversity and its commitment to embracing and respecting difference. Moreover, many students have long indicated a desire for an unambiguous mascot that they could rally behind.

For those reasons, in June, the university’s Board of Trustees asked President Lemons to engage in a conversation with the school’s key constituencies around the name and mascot, and to return to them with a recommendation as to whether to keep Crusader or make a change.

“As stewards of Susquehanna University, the board is entrusted with many responsibilities,” Susquehanna Board Chair John Strangfeld wrote in a letter sent Monday evening to university alumni, students, faculty and staff. “You are aware that we recently charged President Lemons with engaging our key constituencies in a process weighing the value of preserving tradition with the need to manage meaningful change. At the heart of this discussion was use of the Crusader nickname and mascot.”

Although the name has had a rich history on the Susquehanna campus, 90 years later, many believe the university would be better served with a name, mascot and logo that reflect the university’s current diversity and global awareness, Strangfeld said.

During September and October, nine group conversations were held on campus and in areas where the university has a concentration of alumni. About 300 individuals joined the sessions. Those unable to participate in person were able to view a video version of the in-person presentations and to provide feedback through an online survey. More than 1,000 individuals, many with multiple connections to the university, responded to the survey. In the end, there was almost an even split between those in favor of keeping the Crusader name and those willing to consider changing it.

Lemons said he carefully considered the input provided during the listening sessions, through the survey and via email. “Symbols are important and powerful,” he wrote in his recommendation to the board. “An institution’s mascot and nickname should be beloved and unifying symbols,” he noted, adding that has not been the case with the Susquehanna Crusader for some time.

“Our ambivalence and discomfort with the ‘Crusader’ nickname has contributed to its decline. We have not been able to attach our identity to our own unique definition of Crusader. To continue down that path would be unproductive and at odds with the university’s commitment to building an inclusive campus where individuals of all cultures are welcome.”

Both Strangfeld and Lemons said they are grateful to those who provided well-reasoned and respectful commentary.

The board has asked Lemons to convene a committee comprising alumni, students, faculty and staff to determine next steps in selecting a new name and mascot. Chairman Strangfeld said there will be opportunity for all Susquehannans to contribute to the next part of the process.