The Stanford "Indian": Then and Now

In Higher Ed, I heart Stanford, indian mascots, stanford indian, Stanford mascot by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

I just came back from an amazing long weekend in the Bay Area, where I was at a training to be on my reunion homecoming committee (5th year reunion! I’m either really old or really young, depending on your perspective). I seriously love my alma mater more than is probably healthy. But this is a place that I credit with the development of my activist and social-justice oriented frame of mind, and also credit my work in admissions after graduation with opening my eyes to the disparities in higher ed for Native students–which is now my research in grad school. In many ways, it could be seen as ironic that the place that supported and nurtured my Native identity and allowed me to major in Native American Studies/Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity has a past that includes that image above.

That shirt in the picture came from a thrift store in San Diego years ago, where I paid $15 for it. Fifteen dollars. For an old tshirt. But I bought it because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone else picking it up, finding it “cool” and “vintage” and strutting around town in it. So I bought it, and then gave it to the Assistant Director of the Native program at Stanford, because I didn’t want it lying around my house. I imagined it like the Tell-Tale Heart…beating in my drawer…::shudder::

This past weekend when I was on campus, I stopped by her office and saw it sticking out of a drawer. I pulled it out, we laughed about it, and talked about ways it could be used in an educational exhibit of some sort, and how it’s important to remember the mascot’s history.

The quick version of that history, from the Stanford Native Center website:

In February of 1972, 55 Native American students and staff at Stanford presented a petition to the University Ombudsperson who, in turn, presented it to President Lyman.  The 1972 petition urged that “the use of the Indian symbol be permanently discontinued”–and further urged that the University “fulfill its promise to the students of its Native American Program by improving and supporting the program and thereby making its promise to improve Native American education a reality.”  The petition further stated that the Stanford community was not sensitive to the humanity of Native Americans, that the lack of understanding displayed by the name of a race being placed on its entertainment, and that a race of humans cannot be entertainment.  The mascot in all its manifestations was, the Indian group maintained, stereotypical, offensive, and a mockery of Indian cultures.  The group suggested that the “University would be renouncing a grotesque ignorance that it has previously condoned” by removing the Indian as Stanford’s symbol, and by “retracting its misuse of the Indian symbol” Stanford would be displaying a “readily progressive concern for the American Indians of the United States.”

Later that year, the University removed the mascot. I love that the mascot issue was born out of Native student activism on campus. Read the rest of the history here on the NACC website. 

So after I left the Native program offices, I walked over to the Alumni Center for my training. As I was flipping through the packet they gave us, I found this, The “Policy Regarding American Indian Images”:

Apologies for the cell phone picture. But basically it sends a big stfu to any old alums who want to pull out their feathers and face paint for their reunion homecoming publicity or mailings. From the policy:

“We acknowledge that such imagery was not meant to be offensive when adopted. However, these images perpetuate stereotypes, are hurtful and offensive to American Indians and others, and are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.”

lululu’s to that. I was so happy to see this in the packet–and I as I sat there at the table in the alumni center, it made me think about all the Native students who had come before me and who worked so hard to get rid of the mascot. As the only Native on any of the reunion committees this year, I hope I’m making them proud.

Stanford still has a LONG way to go in making the campus climate a completely safe and supportive environment for Native students, and definitely needs work in supporting the ethnic community centers and staff, but personally I find it awesome that there is at least some explicit institutional support around the contentious mascot issue, especially when sending out those mailings with the Indian on them to old alums would probably bring in some more donations to the university.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve completely and totally drank the Stanford kool-aid (but it’s so tasty and full of palm trees!), so if anyone has differing opinions on how the administration has dealt with the mascot issue over the years (and it continues to be an issue, believe me)–definitely send me an email.

I’m also curious how other institutions with an Indian mascot past deal with their alums and images, if you’ve got stories, share them in the comments!

(Thanks Miss Denni!)

PS–Also, a while back I shared one Stanford Alum’s story about how reading Native Approps changed his mind about Indian Mascots. It’s worth a read if you’re somehow still on the fence.