SDSU to keep Aztecs name fol­low­ing racial de­bate

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA & CALIFORNIA - By Gary Rob­bins Gary Rob­bins is a San Diego Union-Tri­bune writer.

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 UnionTri­bune 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.

Hayne Pal­mour IV / TNS 2017

San Diego State mas­cot Kevin Hof­fert runs ahead of the Aztecs foot­ball team be­fore a game against Fresno State in San Diego last Oc­to­ber. The univer­sity will cre­ate a more cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive ver­sion of its mas­cot.

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