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November 17, 2017

The Crusader has been the Holy Cross mascot since 1920.

The College of the Holy Cross is considering whether to change its mascot, The Crusader, which is depicted as a sword-wielding, purple cape-wearing knight.

The Catholic college in Worcester, Massachusetts is concerned about how the mascot portrays the school to the outside world.

The Crusader has been the Holy Cross mascot for nearly 100 years, but this semester the college's president Rev. Philip Boroughs asked students, faculty and alumni to consider whether it's still appropriate.

“Since I’ve been president, every year I’ve had a few letters raising the question,” Boroughs said, sitting inside his office.

Some letters come from students. Others from faculty. The discussion all started in earnest two years ago.

That's when a committee recommended the Jesuit college change the name of Mulledy Hall, a dorm named in memory of the school’s founder, the Rev. Thomas Mulledy.

Mulledy's ties to Georgetown University's sale of 272 slaves in 1838 led many students and faculty to demand a change.

The committee also urged the college consider whether The Crusader mascot is insensitive to Muslims and whether it best represents the school's Catholic values.

"Most schools' monikers are things like the Red Hawks or the Golden Eagles or the Huskies or the Terrapins,” Boroughs said. “Those terms, while very, very emotionally connected to their campus, are not tied to a specific character of their identity. Ours is. The Latin word for cross is crux and crusader is someone who promotes, supports, fights for the cross of Christ."

While some older alumni see this debate as just “PC culture run amok," Boroughs said it’s the role of higher education to raise difficult questions.

“Where else but higher education could you have a thoughtful, engaged conversation where you have experts in a whole variety of fields who can analyze the issues that are before us?” Boroughs said.

Of course, Holy Cross isn't the only school wrestling with controversial symbols.

Other Christian colleges like Eastern Nazarene in Quincy, Wheaton College in Norton and Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin have recently dropped The Crusader as a mascot.

Harvard Law School recently changed its shield, which was modeled on the family crest of a slaveholder.

Last year, Amherst College gave its unofficial mascot, “Lord Jeff,” the boot.

The mascot was a caricature of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a British colonial general who supported giving smallpox-infested blankets to Native Americans.

As the debate at Holy Cross shows, changing a mascot is a challenge to tradition.

“It gives alumni and fans something to rally around and a character,” said Holy Cross spokesman Dan Kim, who believes a mascot is just one way to signal to the public the character of a place. “Whether it’s a historic building or a location or a famous alum, there are all kinds of special indicators that tell the world what the college is all about."

At Holy Cross, sports teams and many alumni refer to themselves as Crusaders and the student newspaper is called The Crusader.

Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson said the mascot is offensive to prospective students and faculty because it invokes images of genocide, but above all he thinks it’s just a terrible sports mascot.

"The Catholics went roughly 4 and 12 in the Crusades,” Matheson said. “So we basically have a mascot where the Catholics got our butts kicked on a regular basis."

Many students and alumni see the Crusader moniker as a crusader for social justice. But senior Fred Boehrer said the holy warrior image doesn't fit the school's values.

"When you look at our mascot as actually a knight with a sword and a shield and his mask drawn ready to go out and battle, it's kind of hard to say, ‘Oh well, you know, maybe he's more of a person like Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day - someone like that who campaigns for justice," Boehrer said.

Not everyone, though, considers the mascot a problem.

In the campus gift shop, Kevin Scully, class of 2002, was doing some early Christmas shopping. He said administrators are being overly sensitive and he wants the college to keep The Crusader.

"It's been the nickname for years and years and years and it's just a great tradition,” Scully said. “I'm from Worcester originally, so it's got a great name in Worcester. Holy Cross and the Holy Cross Crusaders. So to me, it wasn't that big of a deal."

For now, the college is holding listening sessions and asking students and alumni to weigh in online.

The Holy Cross Board of Trustees is expected to make a final decision early next year.

Web Extra: Interview with Father Philip Boroughs 

Related: How Should Colleges Acknowledge Their Ties To Slavery?

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