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Hark upon the gale
February 18, 2007 10:15 AM   Subscribe

It's been a rough first two years for new William and Mary president Gene Nichol. First, he reluctantly let go of a beloved logo. Then, he removed a cross from a chapel in America's oldest academic building. Some students and alumni revolted. One threatened to sue, others withheld donations. Nichol backtracked slightly, but to no avail. Outsiders weighed in. Dinesh D'Souza (previously on MeFi) came to campus to debate. Some students support Nichol and are tired of outside attacks. Maybe it wasn't the best timing for W&M to host the Sex Workers Art Show: conservatives are pissed.
posted by naoko (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
There are so many more articles and opinions out there on this, but I felt that most of them are on the side that is perhaps already overrepresented in this post. To be upfront, I’m an alumna and a huge fan of Big Nic (as we call our well over six-foot president) and his decisions on all of these issues. However, I think this story is bigger than just cranky alumni duking it out since a) it’s been in the WaPo several times (including an opinion piece today), b) big names like Gingrich and D’Souza are involved, and c) it’s a symbol for the “culture war” debates (I know we’ve had a lot of those posts here already, so if this is just more of the same, I apologize).
posted by naoko at 10:16 AM on February 18, 2007


Conservatives are always pissed. It's their entire point of existence. Why? Because change is inevitable and conservatives hate change.
posted by DU at 10:31 AM on February 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


Exactly? Who cares about pissing off conservatives. They'll never be happy.
posted by delmoi at 10:35 AM on February 18, 2007


Feathers are offensive to indians? W.T.F.

Some people, of any skin colour, really need to grow the hell up.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:35 AM on February 18, 2007


Interesting. I'd only vaguely heard of W&M (I'm a Brit) but I enjoyed browsing the website and learning about the history as well as the current controversy.

As with many aspects of public religion, it's creating a lot more heat than it would do in the UK - my college had a chapel with regular services, choir, etc., all privileged way above what the University as a whole provided for those of non-Anglican faiths.
posted by athenian at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2007


It's only a matter of time...
posted by phaedon at 10:44 AM on February 18, 2007


Feathers are offensive to indians? W.T.F.

Eagle and hawk feathers are sacred objects to many Native American tribes.
posted by nathan_teske at 10:46 AM on February 18, 2007


Eagle and hawk feathers are sacred objects to many Native American tribes.

Possesion of eagle feathers is regulated in the US.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:59 AM on February 18, 2007


what is the wisdom of ceding to indians a sort of cultural copyright over animal parts? if bird feathers are taboo, what of bull horns and cougar claws?
posted by bruce at 11:02 AM on February 18, 2007


Eagle and hawk feathers are sacred objects to many Native American tribes.

I understand that. Pentagrams and crosses are sacred to a good many people too, but the horror flicks still display them prominently. No groups religious beliefs should be coddled and protected by anyone but themselves.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:03 AM on February 18, 2007


Also, a friend of mine who attended W&M says that many of the buildings have a very creepy feel to them.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:04 AM on February 18, 2007


bruce, I think it's more to protect eagle species as much as anything else. If average joe paleface could possess eagle feathers, what's to stop him from shooting eagles to sell their feathers?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:05 AM on February 18, 2007


As with many aspects of public religion, it's creating a lot more heat than it would do in the UK

That's because Anglicanism is the state religion in England. We have separation of church and state here. It is in the Bill of Rights.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:06 AM on February 18, 2007


i'm as much in favor of protecting eagle species as any indian. banning feather images from college logos protects eagle species - how???
posted by bruce at 11:08 AM on February 18, 2007


William and Mary logo is a borderline case. It was arbitrarily decided outside the margins of the dispute. The NCAA has made exceptions for identical feather depictions for others.
posted by Brian B. at 11:09 AM on February 18, 2007


what is the wisdom of ceding to indians a sort of cultural copyright over animal parts?

irish poets in antiquity wore feather cloaks and the raven is a well known figure in celtic mythology ... with all respect to native american traditions, there are other traditions to consider, also
posted by pyramid termite at 11:09 AM on February 18, 2007


A little more context, and then I'll butt out:

About the feathers: to some people it seemed like the NCAA was picking on a small school while letting, say, Florida State get away with a lot more. As I understand it, W&M consulted with local tribes, who said the logo didn't offend them. Some students were angry that Nichol chose not to fight the decision, but as he said in the link, the school has a lot of better things to spend money on than a protracted legal battle.

One person who is significantly missing from the cross debate is former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, W&M's chancellor (this is basically an honorary position - she has little authority but is important symbolically). She has repeatedly declined to comment on the situation.

History and tradition mean even more to W&M students and alumni than they might to people from other schools - people go to the second oldest university in America and the alma mater of Thomas Jefferson (and tolerate the tourist crowds of Colonial Williamsburg) to be close to history. Even among more liberal students, resistance to change is part of the culture.

And finally, remember that this is all taking place in the political and cultural context of Virginia, a traditionally conservative state that has recently experienced surprise Democratic victories in senatorial and governor races. Some people may have a general sense that things are quickly changing in Virginia - some people like this, others don't.
posted by naoko at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2007


ah, the celtic raven...edgar allan poe must give his poem back to ireland! from now on we call it yeats's raven, actual authorship be damned. does america own anything at all by itself, that isn't derived from another continent? **thinks** oh yes, here it is, put _this_ on your college logo!
$
posted by bruce at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2007


does america own anything at all by itself, that isn't derived from another continent?

Bad luck, bruce.
posted by matthewr at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2007


W&M consulted with local tribes, who said the logo didn't offend them.

That's the thing - in every case I've heard of schools getting rid of feathers/braves/redskins/what-have-you, I have not once heard of an actual Indian say that they were offended, and very often hear tribes supporting the logo/mascot. Now, I may have just missed the times it has happened, but I can't help but think that some lawyer or public "interest" group is out to cause trouble.
My 2¢.
posted by niles at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2007


It's always the best time to host the Sex Workers' Art Show.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:43 AM on February 18, 2007


I am an alumnus (early '90s) of W&M, and I recall distinctly that the College Republicans did several interviews of Indian tribes in the area - and not one of them came out against the use of "Indians" or "Tribe" as a name, nor did they have any problem with the logo. At least one of the tribes thanked W&M for raising awareness.

This sort of thing is not new; it's been going on every few years since I attended. In the grand scheme of things, it's no big deal.

Burhanistan, I wouldn't describe any of the buildings on campus as "creepy" - W&M has (had?) an open-buildings policy which meant that the buildings remained accessible for use by students at all hours. It made for fun memories to be able to grab a couch at the Charles center at 2 in the morning to engage in drunken sophomoric debate.
posted by aberrant at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2007


This St. Pete Times column is a good, balanced look at the issue, centering around the book Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy Over American Indian Mascots by Carol Spindel:

Indian team names were not meant to demean Indians, [Spindel] says... Based on the romantic notion of the worthy opponent, they were meant to give tribute to a people who had fought valiantly against overwhelming odds, but who ultimately perished. "This notion of taking on the best qualities of one's prey reminds me of hunting rituals in which the hunter eats the vital organs of the animal he has killed to gain the animal's speed or cunning," she observes.

The operative word here is "perished." The admiration of Indians at the beginning of the 20th century -- which manifested itself in everything from Scout camps to Wild West shows to sports names -- was predicated on the notion that Indians were disappearing. Indian legends, like the story of Starved Rock where the Illini fought to their deaths in the face of impossible odds, inspired the young athletes at the University of Illinois known as the Fighting Illini.

The problem, says Spindel, is the story isn't true.

The real Illini did not fight pioneers to the last man in some courageous battle, says Spindel. They were marched out of the state at the point of a bayonet. An even more gruesome fate befell the real Osceola, whose mythological counterpart greets the crowds at Florida State University games with a flaming torch. Osceola, who violently resisted removal of the Seminoles from Florida, was put into federal prison when he came to talk peace under a white flag in 1837. Then after he died in prison, says Spindel, the doctor cut off his head, which was displayed in a medical college, and kept his clothing and possessions as trophies.

But forced removal and mutilation are not the stuff of warrior mythology.


It's actually quite common to find that a school's "historic" mascot was not even their first. Most of these team emblems derive from a time when a latter-day "noble savage" mythology was used to paper over the true history of the disenfranchisement of Native Americans -- and in many ways remain used that way. A self-justification of the ilk of "One of my best friends is an Indian" -- except he isn't, he just camps in a buckskin tent.

It's pretty clear that with the US Civil Rights Commission opposing them and the NCAA agreeing they should be eliminated, the Indian names and imagery is on borrowed time. It's not just W&M that has a lot of better things to spend money on than protracted legal battles.
posted by dhartung at 11:59 AM on February 18, 2007


I think the controversy over Native American symbolism is the slippery slope effect over the justified awareness the Washington Redskins issue raised. Redskins was a slur, but the feathers in W&M are not, although Americans are too racist to tell the difference. This is actually a case where elitists are projecting racism.
posted by Brian B. at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2007


elitists

10 yard penalty, loss of down.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:38 PM on February 18, 2007


'Nother W+M alum here. W+M actually in some regards is the oldest college in the country. From Wiki: In 1618 a royal charter was obtained for founding the University of Henrico, and in the following years land was set aside for its use. But nothing more than a school for the Native Americans had actually come into existence by 1622, when the town was destroyed in the Indian Massacre of 1622. It was not rebuilt, and Virginia had to wait until 1693 for the College of William and Mary to be established. Many historians believe that the successful plan submitted to the Crown for William and Mary was based largely upon the earlier efforts at Henricus.
Screw you crazy Puritan upstarts at Harvard!
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:00 PM on February 18, 2007


Point being that it was a Native American school, and so made sense that the football team is called the Tribe, etc. I'll never give them money as long as Prof. Chip Hoagland still teaches there, but that's another story.
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:02 PM on February 18, 2007


That's the thing - in every case I've heard of schools getting rid of feathers/braves/redskins/what-have-you, I have not once heard of an actual Indian say that they were offended, and very often hear tribes supporting the logo/mascot.

University of North Dakota "Fighting Sioux" -- standing resolutions opposing the mascot and nickname have been issued by the tribal governments of the Standing Rock Nation, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Spirit Lake Nation, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton/Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Three Affiliated Tribes.
posted by nathan_teske at 1:17 PM on February 18, 2007


the “culture war” debates

I watched Jesus Camp this weekend -- and, oh boy, to the folks depicted in the documentary it is an all-out war.
posted by ericb at 1:18 PM on February 18, 2007


Also, UNITED TRIBES OF NORTH DAKOTA RESOLUTION

Title: Urging formal consultation between North Dakota Tribes, UND, ND Board of Higher Education and NCAA regarding use of “Sioux” logo and nickname, and support for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) action banning display of “hostile and abusive” nicknames, logos and mascots at NCAA sanctioned tournaments.

Full text of the resolution is available in a very annoying flash reader
posted by nathan_teske at 1:20 PM on February 18, 2007


Dinesh D'Souza on Why "America Should Be Destroyed"
posted by homunculus at 1:46 PM on February 18, 2007


If you're in Atlanta you just missed the Sex Workers Art Show at Eyedrum last weekend. The SWAS tour continues.
posted by intermod at 2:23 PM on February 18, 2007


Well, I'm never going back to my old school.
posted by hal9k at 3:38 PM on February 18, 2007


About the feathers: to some people it seemed like the NCAA was picking on a small school while letting, say, Florida State get away with a lot more.

Florida State has a deal (Caution: cheesy embedded video) with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to use the name. In addition, the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma has talked of a similar deal, and at the least has responded favorably to FSU's recent overtures their way.

UND has zero support for "Sioux" from the local tribes (as noted above). Thanks to a Nazi sympathizer alum, that name isn't going anywhere any time soon.

Illinois has discontinued Chief Illiniwek, though apparently the "Illini" name will remain since it's the Latinate plural form of Illinois.

I think it's only a matter of time before PETA goes after my alma mater's most famous symbol.
posted by dw at 6:05 PM on February 18, 2007


nathan_teske: I stand corrected. Thanks for the link.
posted by niles at 9:47 PM on February 18, 2007


Gene is a rock star. He taught Constitutional Law when I was a first-year at W&M. Nobody is better equipped to handle these controversies.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 12:54 AM on February 19, 2007


Where is Virgil Goode on these issues? I want to know.

Seriously, good for Nichols. Now he can get a better job at a real university.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:39 AM on February 19, 2007


Because, for those who don't get it, it's not just that "feathers are sacred to Indians." It's that the white genocide of Native peoples was conducted to clear the country for institutions like colleges and city halls. From the Native perspective, it's as if the Nazi party, significantly reformed, were still in power in Germany and used cute little stars of David and menorahs for sports logos.

The feathers in the W&M logo are unambiguously meant to be "Indian" feathers, not ambiguously Celtic or anything at all that feathers might possibly represent. W&M sits on stolen Indian land.

I'd be pissed too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:43 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


The feathers in the W&M logo are unambiguously meant to be "Indian" feathers

i swear that someone needs to do something about these damn crows ... they're not only appropriating sacred native american symbology, they're doing it on stolen indian land ... the nerve!

this is political correctness at its worst

and ...

it's as if the Nazi party, significantly reformed, were still in power in Germany and used cute little stars of David and menorahs for sports logos.

is nominated for the godwin of the month award
posted by pyramid termite at 4:52 AM on February 19, 2007



is nominated for the godwin of the month award


Yeah, if you're not an Indian. Otherwise, the genocide of indigenous Native North Americans was easily the equivalent of the Nazi holocaust in human and moral terms.

I figured someone would schlep out the "Godwin" deflection. Nice way to avoid contemplating that we Americans, at least, live in a society founded on genocide and still not willing to admit it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:55 AM on February 19, 2007


Because, asswipe, otherwise those feathers are equivalent to a star of David on the uniform of a German soccer team called "The Yids." Deal with it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:56 AM on February 19, 2007


North and South Americans, I meant to say. Then we can definitely assert equivalent numbers of deaths directly resulting from genocidal policy decisions taken by colonial and national governments. Godwin has nothing to do with it when the comparison is valid. I'm not calling colleges that use Indian mascots or logos Nazis. I'm saying what they do is done in the context of a history of unacknowledged, uncompensated genocide. Period.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:59 AM on February 19, 2007


So, finaly, if you're Jewish, how would you feel about a German sports team called "The Rabbis" and featuring a Star of David as a logo? Even now, with the German genocide of the Jews an acknowledged and to some extent compensated historical fact, it would disgust most right-thinking people.

But Indian sacred symbols and names? No big deal. After all, they're not really human in the same way. And they only lived a long time ago.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:01 AM on February 19, 2007


now that the thread has been godwinized, i gotta great idea...
the jews use a ram horn "shofar" as a musical instrument, well, sound emitter in some of their ceremonies. the st. louis rams (previously the los angeles rams) wrongfully appropriated this sacred symbol. i would love to see the jews go after the st. louis rams, because i hate the rams (from back when they were the los angeles rams).
posted by bruce at 9:14 AM on February 19, 2007


So, finaly, if you're Jewish, how would you feel about a German sports team called "The Rabbis" and featuring a Star of David as a logo?

it could be worse ... years after the english genocide of a million or so irish people some english speaking people could start a sports team with a leprechan and a shamrock for a logo and call them something stereotypical like the fighting irish

being of irish descent i would really HATE that

I'm not calling colleges that use Indian mascots or logos Nazis.

yes, you are ... and we're not talking about some crazed looking indian here, which would be inappropriate, we're talking about a couple of lousy feathers

if you're that fucking sensitive, go join a monastery and make sure they don't have any sports fans

(4 replies over a godwin claim ... that may be a record here)

by the way, unless you live in iceland, the land you're living on was stolen, too
posted by pyramid termite at 10:49 AM on February 19, 2007


You know who else didn't care about offending Native Americans? That's right, Andrew Jackson!
posted by hydrophonic at 3:12 PM on February 19, 2007


Oh wow, I'm am kinda surprised to come back and see that the feathers thing is the main topic of discussion here. I see both sides of that one and don't really feel that strongly about it one way or the other - to me the cross thing is the more interesting story.
Also, I think the SWAS is intriguing in and of itself, regardless of campus debates about it.

Point being that it was a Native American school, and so made sense that the football team is called the Tribe, etc. I'll never give them money as long as Prof. Chip Hoagland still teaches there, but that's another story.

The administration really tries to spin the "Indian school" thing as representing a long history of diversity and blahblah, but if it was anything like the other Indian schools you hear about from that era, it was probably one of the more regrettable episodes in our past.

I don't know Prof. Hoagland, but I'm curious now.
posted by naoko at 3:44 PM on February 19, 2007


like the other Indian schools you hear about from that era, it was probably one of the more regrettable episodes in our past.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School (where Pop Warner coached Jim Thorpe as a member of 'The Carlisle Indians').
posted by ericb at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2007


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