College to choose new mascot

Marra Clay and Ellen Ivens-Duran

On April 6, President Kathy Murray announced that Whitman College will change its mascot. The decision came in response to the recommendations of a working group organized in December to determine the appropriateness of the Whitman College mascot.

Murray wrote in an email to the college community that after reviewing feedback from more than 7,000 students, alumni and other members of the Whitman community, the Mascot Working Group recommends the college abandon the Missionary as its mascot. Both Murray and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees endorsed the working group’s unanimous decision.

“I do not think a mascot (defined as a person, animal or object adopted as the symbol of a group and believed to bring good luck) should precipitate the difficult conversations around challenging ideas,” wrote Murray in her email. “A mascot is meant to be something around which supporters of a college, and particularly athletic teams, rally.”

A new working group will identify and evaluate potential mascots. This group, which will consist of faculty, staff, students and alumni, will consider options over the summer of 2016 in anticipation of a community-wide vote this upcoming fall.

The mascot survey was sent to over 18,000 individuals, including students and their families, faculty, staff, alumni and other friends of the college. In addition to over 7,000 responses to the survey, the working group also received almost 1,000 pages of additional written feedback.

Prior to reviewing the data, the group developed a list of principles they would use to guide their recommendation. These principles were to “honor with integrity the spirit and tradition of Whitman College and create a positive dialogue around it,” “foster a sense of inclusion and unity amongst the Whitman ‘family’ – past, present and future,” “provide a positive platform for the college to resolve an issue that has been discussed for decades” and “create a positive inflection point in the college’s history and a bridge between past and current students.”

In their recommendation, the Mascot Working Group noted that approximately 40 percent of all individuals surveyed held a very strong opinion on whether or not the ‘Missionary’ is an appropriate mascot for Whitman College today. Because of this, the Working Group acknowledged that some people may not agree with the recommendation.

Percentage of surveyed alumni, organized by class year, that believe that the ‘Missionary’ is an appropriate mascot for Whitman College today. 

Infographic by Maggie Baker.
Infographic by Maggie Baker.

“With utmost respect for those who have a strong tie to the Missionary as the college mascot, the working group sought to develop a deep understanding of those opinions and offer an evaluation of that perspective as part of this recommendation,” the Mascot Working Group said.  

Murray was careful to specify that the changes would extend no further than the mascot.

“Some might suggest that a change in the mascot might portend more dramatic changes at Whitman. To the contrary, Whitman staff, faculty, students and graduates across the generations are united around the value Whitman College places on intellectual inquiry in the liberal arts and how that education prepares students to make a difference in the world,” said Murray. “Even as we retire one mascot and eventually identify another, our pride in the 134-year history of this college makes it clear that Whitman College will remain our name.”

Do you think that the ‘Missionary’ is an appropriate mascot for Whitman College today?

Infographic by Jess Faunt.
Infographic by Jess Faunt.

Director of Institutional Research Neal Christopherson released an executive summary of the mascot survey results. He explained some of the reasons for changing the mascot, including that it “celebrates the systematic oppression of Native Americans” and that the ‘Missionary’ is not a “mascot we can be proud of.” Proponents of the Missionary mainly cited upholding Whitman history and tradition and “bridging generations of Whitman students” as their reasons for leaving it unchanged.

A committee of faculty, staff, students and alumni will work over the summer to compile a list of possible new mascots. According to Murray’s email, the entire Whitman campus community will then be able to vote on the new mascot in the fall of 2016.