Southeast Missouri State University should retire its Indian nicknames and adopt a new nickname and mascot that won't offend Native Americans, proponents of a name change said Wednesday.
About 75 university students, employees and alumni attended a public forum at the University Center held by a university committee that is recommending a new nickname and mascot to the board of regents. About 10 people spoke at the meeting. All expressed support for retiring the Indian nickname but offered no opinions on what should replace it.
Mark Langenfeld, professor of health, human performance and recreation at Southeast, suggested that sooner or later the National Collegiate Athletic Association will force its member colleges to drop the use of Indian nicknames and mascots. He said the university should act now rather than be forced to make such a move at a later date.
Southeast's sports teams have had Indian nicknames since 1922. The men's teams are referred to as the Indians and the women's teams are called the Otahkians, a reference to a Cherokee woman who died on the Trail of Tears forced march to the Oklahoma territory in the 1800s.
But the university hasn't had a student dress up in an Indian costume since 1985 and hasn't had any type of mascot for more than a decade.
The university doesn't put the nickname on school T-shirts or mention it in its publications.
Victoria Wilke, a junior from Kansas City, said Southeast needs a mascot to promote school spirit. "I have nothing to rally around as a student," she said. "I feel no school spirit."
Don Kaverman, director of athletics at Southeast and a member of the mascot/nickname committee, said the lack of a mascot has made it harder to market the university.
Ed Leoni, a health and recreation professor who chairs the university committee, said many Native Americans are offended by the use of Indian nicknames and mascots for college sports teams.
Mary Nave, an Oglala Sioux from Sikeston, Mo., agreed. "I think it is time for a change."
The regents are expected to consider the committee's recommendation for a new nickname and mascot on June 25.
The committee, which will meet next Wednesday, is currently considering five suggested nicknames: Red Hawks, Red Wolves, Red Birds, Explorers and Sentinels.
Wendy Stott Berry, a junior from Cape Girardeau, said its wrong to single out "an entire group of people" as a school nickname.
Committee member Mike Price, who played football at Southeast in the 1960s, said the university needs to retire the Indian nicknames and find an acceptable mascot. "It's about what is best for the university," he said.
John Schneider, who formerly taught and coached at Southeast, doesn't oppose retiring the Indian nicknames. But he said the university never treated the Indian nicknames with disrespect and he doesn't want the names retired "under some kind of cloud of ill respect of what has been done in the past."
Carol Morrow, associate professor of anthropology, said she and other members of a university subcommittee are looking at how best to officially retire the Indian and Otahkian nicknames as well as how to better honor American Indian culture.
"Then all we need is a distinguished burial," Schneider said.
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