On Feb. 11 Interim President Colette Irwin-Knott sent a campus wide email announcing the retirement of the Crusader as the Valpo mascot.
In order to make the decision the administration worked with Faculty Senate, Student Senate and the Alumni Association.
“I think it’s important that Interim President Irwin-Knott created a task force with someone from every single campus constituency and then they had a data-driven approach for gauging the full campus community’s opinion on this issue,” Student Body President Kaitlyn Steinhiser said.
The reasoning behind the decision made by the task force was stated clearly in the video by Irwin-Knott.
“The negative connotation associated with the Crusader is not reflective of Valpo’s mission and values, which promote a welcoming and inclusive community,” Irwin-Knott said.
She assured the Valpo community that the administration will continue to uphold and build upon the university's beliefs and values.
“We remain committed to building an inclusive campus where individuals of all beliefs and cultures are welcome,” Irwin-Knott said. “Valpo is a faith-based institution and we want to make sure our mascot is in alignment with our beliefs and speaks to the core values of the Lutheran ethos rather than being a symbol of division.”
Steinhiser addressed the students’ perspective regarding the symbolism of the current mascot.
“There has been a growing concern from students on campus about how the current crusader mascot represents us as well as how it may impact prospective students’ views of our university,” Steinhiser said. “We want to see Valpo take this important step to retire this negative symbolism and imagery from the university.”
Jenna Rifai (‘21) felt the division created by the Crusader firsthand as a student.
“As a Muslim, I was embarrased to come to Valpo because the school’s mascot was a Crusader, even though my mom and older siblings went here before me,” Rifai said.
According to Rifai, it made her uncomfortable to think about crowds cheering for this mascot.
“It’s like, in their minds do they accept me? Are they anti-Muslim?” she said. “I know it seems like a small little image but that image holds power. Symbols hold power.”
The issue of whether the Crusader has reflected Valpo values has been an ongoing conversation for decades. It recently gained momentum in June 2020 when a Facebook group composed of alumni, students and faculty gained popularity.
The group entitled “The Coalition to Retire the Crusader” was spearheaded by alumni Mike Nevergall and Kevin York both of whom dedicated their time to organize the Valpo community through petitions and letter-writing campaigns.
“I mean I feel good about the direction of the university now, I feel like with the retirement of the crusader we can come together as an extended campus community and really unify around a new mascot that is more inclusive of the place that Valparaiso University is and what it really stands for,” York said.
Nevergall expressed his appreciation for the directness of the administration’s words regarding this issue.
“I think that when you watch the video from her and from Kaitlyn and their comments what you hear is...they're not mincing words. This is a very clear, full throated rejection of the crusader and what it stands for and a statement that it simply is not, was not in alignment with the universities mission and values,” Nevergall said.
The university values were outlined in the OneValpo promise that the athletic department has adopted over the past few years and recently reimagined. Director of Athletics Mark LaBarbera said the department’s goal is to remain true to the promise.
“We are committed to being an open and inclusive athletics department; we are committed to making sure that we’re, once again, providing the best experience and the best support for all the members of the Valpo Athletics family,” LaBarbera said.
Further, he stressed that the “Valpo student athlete experience is the most important thing to us. We continue to be committed to that and that commitment is completely separate and independent of what the mascot is.”
Upon learning of the news, Steinhiser had initial questions about the implementation of this decision.
“My first reaction was ‘What’s next?’ ‘How are we announcing it?’, but it was also kind of a sign of relief because I knew our campus would grow from this moment,” Steinhiser said.
“I really look forward to the conversation about how the university community wants to be represented going forward and I'm also hopeful that -- that process will be such that it’s clear to all of the people that might be upset by the change -- that the university still very much values them as alumni and values their experience here,” LaBarbera said. We’re all able to have a conversation that leads us all to a place where we’re all supporting Valpo in the way that it needs to be and deserves to be supported.”
Moving forward, Steinhiser said, “President-Elect Padilla is going to be convening a committee that will start to make the plan for choosing the next mascot. I’m confident students will be involved in this decision.”
Not all reactions to the news were positive. A Valpo athlete who wishes to remain anonymous expressed their concerns.
“I was really indifferent as to whether it got changed. But I would say my main concern was the priority of it. I don’t think it needs to be changed right now,” they said. “I feel like there's a lot of other things that need to be changed first. I know the money we’re going to spend could go to better places, whether that be student organizations that support things that Valpo claims to support.”
The athlete placed emphasis on the value of Valpo’s Lutheran heritage.
“It goes against what I feel like is one of Valpo’s strongest characteristics: tradition,” they said.
Irwin-Knott acknowledged Valpo’s rich Lutheran history and hopes to comfort those in disagreement with the decision.
“This foundation and our rich history will not change -- only our mascot will,” Irwin-Knott said.