SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University will keep the word Aztec as its nickname but create a more culturally sensitive version of its mascot in a decision that reflects nearly 20 years of racially charged debate about how the school treats indigenous people.
“The Aztec Warrior … will be retained, but as Spirit Leader, not mascot,” interim SDSU President Sally Roush told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Tuesday.
“We just expect a much more dignified and appropriate demeanor from that person. You won’t see the Aztec Warrior doing pushups in the end zone. You won’t see the Aztec Warrior dancing with the cheerleaders.”
Her action is part of a larger movement in the United States in which everyone from small high schools to big universities and Major League Baseball teams have tweaked or dropped nicknames and mascots that were regarded as culturally unacceptable.
Roush largely based her decision on the work of a 17-member task force of faculty, students, alumni and community leaders who explored whether the school’s use of Aztec is culturally insensitive, if not racist. Many critics have made those claims, including an SDSU lecturer who points out that the Aztecs never lived in the southwestern United States. They were from central Mexico.
The task force report led Roush to decide that the words Monty and Zuma can no longer be used in name of awards by the university. The nicknames represent the breaking apart of the word Montezuma, which Roush said is “very disrespectful of the emperor of the Aztec civilization.”
Adela de la Torre, a social justice expert who will become SDSU’s permanent president in late June, has read the report and agrees with Roush’s decisions, the university said.
The task force conducted a major survey that found that university, its alumni and the public want to keep the name Aztecs, which has been in use since 1925. But the report also contains dissent, and anxiety, particularly about the current political climate in the U.S.
While discussing the name, the task force pointed out that, “In the current political climate relative to the US/Mexico border, the elimination of the moniker may be read as discriminatory and an attempt to ‘erase’ our relationship to Mexico and other Latin Americans.”
But the task force also considered the opposite point of view, saying that getting rid of the nickname is reasonable because, “Change is warranted because of the current political climate that leans toward racial and ethnic discrimination.”
The new report says that more than 200,000 survey forms were sent to alumni, faculty and staff, students and the community, asking whether Aztec should be used as a nickname, and the name for the mascot. Nearly 13,000 people replied, and, generally speaking, people either strongly supported or opposed the name change, with few people in the middle.
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