Monday, April 5, 2021

Crusaders No More: Evangel University Drops Its Mascot

It surprised me to hear that Evangel University would be dropping the Crusader as their mascot. The term hearkens back to their roots in the Pentecostal preaching of the 20th century (Evangel is affiliated with the Assemblies of God), with evangelists holding tent revivals as part of what they called 'crusades.' Back then, laypeople wouldn't have generally picked up on or cared about the violent roots of that term, going back to warfare between Christians of Western Europe and Muslims (and at points with Eastern Christians) in the 11th to 13th centuries. The armored medieval soldier imagery could have more easily been associated by them with the 'full armor of God' language found in the New Testament than with the events of Christian history.  In an era when mascots are sacred calves battled over in the culture war, I would have expected Evangel to double down on keeping the status quo. I shouldn't have, because it's bad for revenue.

"We recognize that times have changed," Hedlun said. The Crusader mascot "really no longer represents what our university stands for. As well, we have a lot of alumni who are involved in work both in the United States and globally, and knowing that we are global community members, it is not a mascot that our alumni can advocate for or support in their work around the world."

In a prepared statement on the university website, Evangel president George O. Wood said, "Today, we recognize that the Crusader often inhibits the ability of students and alumni to proudly represent the university in their areas of global work and ministry." 

That first paragraph started well, acknowledging changing perspectives. In a globalized world, with students coming in from everywhere, it's hard to avoid recognizing the deeper negative historic connotation of any word referencing the crusades. The folksy 20th century meaning is lost in translation. It would seem from the rest of that paragraph that the issue is just as much or perhaps more about the students graduating into an international job market. Saying that alumni can't 'advocate for or support in their work around the world' means that the image of the school is adversely affected by an image of religious conquest. It also means a reduced possibility of soliciting funds from alumni.

For most universities their alumni are an important revenue stream. I know someone who's career in life has mostly been about schmoozing with well-to-do alumnus of whatever university he's working with at the time, talking up the school's programs and direction. Some of it is maintenance, to keep the money flowing in, and some of it is seeking funds for specific purposes. While most graduate with a significant amount of student debt, there are enough graduates who either go on to make their fortunes or continue those of the family business to make this endeavor worthwhile. Knowing that, it makes perfect sense that Evangel would be sensitive to what their alumni worldwide are saying about the school and its mascot. 

Am I cynical? Yes, most of the time. Still, whether they took action for the 'right' reasons or not, the result is the same. Next Fall a new mascot will be debuted at Evangel University.