Valparaiso University is retiring its school mascot in favor of one that will better reflect its "values and community" after the imagery was embraced by hate groups.
The small, faith-based Lutheran school in Indiana announced on Thursday that its mascot, the Crusader, will be replaced, considering its imagery has been "embraced and displayed by hate groups including the Ku Klux Klan."
"The negative connotation and violence associated with the Crusader imagery are not reflective of Valpo's mission and values, which promote a welcoming and inclusive community," Interim President Colette Irwin-Knott said in a news release. "The university has carefully evaluated this matter, including establishing a task force to conduct due diligence and garner feedback from the entire campus community, alumni, parents and other key stakeholders. This is the decision that best reflects our values and community."
The Crusades were a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims over holy land starting in the 11th century, and are also the namesake of an official Ku Klux Klan newspaper, according to CNN.
Valparaiso's statement said the decision to retire the mascot was finalized this week following a "decades-long debate that has intensified" over the last few years.
The Crusader imagery and logos will be retired in the coming months, and the university will also form a committee to "engage the campus community in considering and adopting a new mascot."
"Valpo is and always has been a faith-based institution, and we want to make sure our symbolism is in alignment with our beliefs and speaks to the core values of the Lutheran ethos," Irwin-Knott said. "At Valpo, we strive to seek truth, serve generously and cultivate hope. We do not believe having the Crusader as our mascot portrays these values."
The long-simmering issue drew renewed attention in June after a group of alumni, students and faculty created the Facebook group "The Coalition to Retire the Crusader," according to the Valpo Torch, the school's student newspaper.
Alum Kevin York helped lead the charge, and told the Torch that he hoped retiring the mascot and working together to find a new one would unite the campus community.
Student Jenna Rifai also expressed support for the change.
"As a Muslim, I was embarrassed to come to Valpo because the school's mascot was a Crusader, even though my mom and older siblings went here before me," she said. "It's like, in their minds, do they accept me? Are they anti-Muslim? I know it seems like a small little image but that image holds power. Symbols hold power."
Valparaiso is just the latest organization or school to retire its mascot; the Washington Football Team dropped its original Redskins name and logo in July following outcry from critics who denounced the name as a slur used against Native Americans.
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