Moving Past the “Crusader”

Hooray for our colors!

Hooray for our colors!

UPDATE: On Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, Susquehanna’s Board of Trustees voted to discontinue use of the nickname “Crusader.” *and there was much rejoicing* The vote occurred after several months of seeking input from the greater Susquehanna community. I heard from fellow alumni that my original letter/post was passed around again; one person even quoted excerpts from it when providing feedback to the university. I am proud to have played a role in this change by articulating a position others had but did not know how to express.

ORIGINAL POST: Excerpts from an open letter I submitted to my alma mater, Susquehanna University, upon the announcement that the mascot would move from a tiger to a squirrel but the nickname would remain “Crusader” despite complaints from faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“I support this move to a new mascot.

I love Susquehanna. I’d love to embrace all the symbols chosen to represent it. I’ve got lots of orange and maroon in my closet, and I wear that rare and eye-catching combo proudly. But I’ve never felt a connection to our mascot or its nickname. I consider this to be a loss, a missed opportunity for the school to garner some goodwill and generate affinity.

As a freshman in the fall of 2000, I remember the last time we changed to a new mascot. We were getting a tiger. He’d wear a cape, and this would officially make him the Caped Crusader which we all knew as the nickname for Batman. An old reference even at that time, this led to the rumor that the university paid money to D.C. Comics for permission to use the name. I never heard if this was true or not, but it still seems like a bad way to go.

That the tiger missed the mark is not surprising. It was always a band-aid anyway. In the late 1990’s the appropriateness of the Crusader mascot was raised with the Board of Trustees and senior administrators. At that time the iron cross was removed from the university’s flag because the many groups that used it include those who embarked on the Crusades. It also graced the flags of the Third Reich. And the Crusader mascot, commonly referred to as “the knight” by alumni I’ve met from the 1960’s and 70’s, was nixed. But the nickname, Crusader, remained. So we had a mascot and a nickname that didn’t match unless you shoe-horned Batman in there somehow.

What is a Crusader? We all have an image in our head that was most probably born of some movie or painting we’ve seen. I tend to think immediately of the movie Robin Hood (sadly the Costner version and not the Brooks’ cult favorite), or footage from those Knights Templar “documentaries” on the History channel during the DaVinci code craze. No matter where your image comes from, we all understand that a Crusader is a Christian who fought in a religiously sanctioned military campaign to reclaim the Holy Land for Christendom. The Crusades went on for hundreds of years. Ever since then the word has been used in the name of military operations by predominantly Christian nations in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Coalition forces used it as recently as 2004.

A Crusader is a symbol of Christian conquest. It is several hundred years worth of violence and arrogance wrapped into one word.

"Love thy neighbor...unless they're not just like you. Then you can kill 'em!!"

“Love thy neighbor…unless they’re not just like you. Then you can kill ’em!!”

You don’t have to be a practicing Christian like me, active in my Lutheran church, to understand the Crusades are not a proud era in Christian history. When Eastern Nazarene College dropped the Crusader mascot in 2009, their president said “Crusader no longer represented the positive message of Christian love we aim to share with the world.” I understand that the connotation for the word has changed. I mean its never had a positive meaning for many groups of people, but the majority population in America seems to have thought it was all good for a long time. I get that. I’m not mad at those people. I don’t wish to change our past or pretend that it never happened. And seeing as how I was born in 1981 and didn’t join the Susquehanna community until 2000, I don’t wish to apologize for them either. I just want to move on. We’re better than this. We know better. To pretend it’s okay to call ourselves Crusaders is quite sad.

I know there’s this story about a journalist giving us the nickname Little Crusaders in the 1920’s. I hope you understand that doesn’t make it okay. To call someone a Crusader is to imply that they are full of zeal in the same way that the original Crusaders were. Just because Susquehanna’s Crusade-like campaign was for a good cause doesn’t mean the historical weight is lifted when we use the word. We wouldn’t call ourselves the Susquehanna Inquisition and say “oh but its not that Inquisition, it’s a reference to how smart and inquisitive our students are when talking with professors.” We’re not fooling anyone. When someone reads or hears that we’re Crusaders, they are going to instantly think of the historical Crusader and our little story, if it happens to reach them, isn’t likely to change their mind. The main reason we tell that story now is to assuage ourselves of the guilt we feel because we know continuing to use the word is wrong.

Where can this word take us? The world of college recruitment is competitive, and just getting your foot in the door is a challenge. There isn’t time to say “we’re the Crusaders, but wait, we’re not that kind of Crusader. We earned this nickname almost a century ago…” How sloppy and out of date does that make us seem?

My passion for phasing out the Crusader isn’t motivated by the need to bring new students into our community. I care about Susquehanna’s continued survival, but I care even more about those already in our community who are hurt by our nickname. We’re a school committed to diversity, and our population has grown more and more diverse in the past decade. I was on campus every day for seven of those years and I saw it happen. There are alumni and students who recognize the Crusader as a threat to their culture, their religion, their homeland, their families and themselves. Then there are the alumni, like myself, who are part of the majority population but understand the shame of the word. Our excellent Susquehanna education prepared us to know better. We want to be better than a Crusader.

I know there are people who think the push to drop the Crusader nickname is just about political correctness. Understand that when someone says this they are choosing to ignore the valid concerns of their fellow community members and they are saying “I don’t care what my fellow alumni have to say because I like things the way they are.” Privilege means you think something isn’t a problem because it isn’t a problem to you personally. Calling ourselves Crusaders is a privilege we can no longer afford.

I want my alma mater to move forward and away from this distraction. I want them to either put the Crusader nickname aside, or issue a formal statement explaining why the Board of Trustees and the senior administration think its okay to honor a disgraceful chapter in Christianity’s history.

If you agree with me, I have some advice for you. Send your thoughts on the Crusader nickname to the alumni office at alumni@susqu.edu. Write your own statement, copy something from this letter, attach a funny meme, etc… whatever works best for you.

Why? Let me explain. As an employee who worked with marketing materials, I sat through conversations about our mascot and nickname. They usually ended with someone voicing the largely held belief that the university would never tackle the issue because it was too messy, controversial and dangerous. I think the undertone to this idea is a fear that alumni who graduated before 2000 will be angry and stop working with Susquehanna if the Crusader goes away. Its a valid fear. If the school loses the resources and connections that Crusader-supporting alumni provide, then students lose out on much needed opportunities. So we need to make it known that there is a sizable group of alumni, staff, faculty, parents and friends who support a change in nickname. Tell them you care and you want it to change. You are important and the school cares about you.

I know some of you just think the “Crusader” symbolizes all the ways in which you didn’t connect with the institution at large. You have a few professors and friends you loved at Susquehanna, but you never felt like you fit in. You never caught the Susquehanna spirit. That missed connection will be a deficit for our alma mater for decades to come. And the strength of our college serves as the foundation for your resume, so it behooves you to keep Susquehanna strong. So take a chance and tell them what you think. Let’s move forward together.

peace – Jenny Ruth (Hawbaker ‘04) Partica”

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3 thoughts on “Moving Past the “Crusader”

  1. This is a timely microcosm of the current national conversation about whether or not variations of the confederate flag represent treason and oppression or “southern heritage.” Any effort to justify the latter becomes a convoluted string of obscure historical excuses, when in fact we all know that flag means “slavery.” And so it goes with the “Crusader” mascot– if you have to work so hard to make it relevant, not to mention not vaguely offensive, it’s a liability and not an asset to the community. Well done Jenny Ruth Partica.

  2. I can finally sleep at night knowing that the US can continue it’s airstrikes and continue the crusade in the middle east and my alma mater doesn’t have any ties to that in mascot stuffed costume form.

    But moving to a squirrel costume has too close of ties to the french and indian war and the early fur trade on this continent. My ancestors were slaughtered over the trade of beaver, marmot and SQUIRREL pelts. #triggered

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