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San Diego State’s Aztec Mascot Will Stay — For Now

Photo by Megan Burks / KPBS

Above: Students who supported a resolution to retire the Aztec mascot at San Diego State University hear Associated Students board members vote down the proposal, April 19, 2017.

San Diego State's student government has voted down a resolution that would have phased out the Aztec mascot and moniker. But the school's University Senate will take up the matter again in the fall.

San Diego State's student government has voted down a resolution that would have phased out the Aztec mascot and moniker.

Supporters of the resolution put forward by the Native American Student Alliance, or NASA, said the mascot is an appropriation of Native American cultures and rooted in early 20th century bigotry.

"I will make sure that if this isn't solved by the time I'm out of here, that there's a clear path for the people who do come in to take this by the reins and to tear this beast down," said Marissa Mendoza, president of NASA. "This is a racial sickness."

RELATED: Does San Diego State’s Aztec Mascot Perpetuate Racism?

This is the third time in recent years that students have called the mascot into question. In 2000, Associated Students voted to retire the Aztec, only to have the decision overturned by a campus- and alumni-wide referendum.

These earlier discussions lead to the current Aztec Warrior mascot; it used to be the cartoonish Monty Montezuma.

10News

The current Aztec Warrior mascot is shown in 2014.

That change is why many spoke out against Wednesday's referendum. They said the university's portrayal of the Aztec culture is positive and respectful now. And they said retiring the mascot could hurt the university financially. They worried about the cost of changing campus signage, getting rid of millions of dollars in merchandise and sports uniforms, and losing support from alumni.

A last-minute survey put out by the SDSU Alumni Association received 2,500 responses. Of the 800 counted before the meeting, 78 percent were in favor of keeping the mascot.

But supporters of the resolution urged members of the board to act, not for the majority of students and alumni, but for the campus' small Native American population. In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for schools to retire Native American mascots due to "a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals … on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people."

"This Aztec, it's encouraging cultural appropriation," said Raelynn Bichitty, NASA secretary. "It's saying, 'It's OK to use people as mascots. It's OK to dehumanize them because they're not on our level.'"

Is It Time To Retire SDSU’s Aztec Mascot?

GUEST:

Ozzie Monge, lecturer, American Indian Studies Department, San Diego State University

Seven student representatives in Associated Students resigned from their posts in solidarity with Bichitty and her NASA colleagues. They said the board has failed to demonstrate parity. Last week, it passed a resolution condemning discrimination of Jewish people. They said the mascot decision was also about discrimination.

In a statement, the university said the matter would be taken up again by its University Senate in the fall.

San Diego State University has a long and successful tradition of shared governance. As such, when a policy issue arises, the university engages in a broader discussion of the issue through the appropriate and responsible democratically-elected body (e.g., Associated Students, University Senate, etc.).


Associated Students' University Council recently engaged in their resolution process and voted against the proposed resolution regarding SDSU’s Aztec identity. We appreciate the thoughtful consideration our student leaders have given the issue.


A similar resolution has also been proposed to the University Senate and is expected to go through its own policy discussion process in the fall. It is important to SDSU that all viewpoints regarding the university’s Aztec identity are given the opportunity to be respectfully heard and carefully considered.

Wednesday's decision was non-binding. Student government actions serve as recommendations to the university president. Next year, SDSU will have a new president. Elliot Hirshman has taken a job in Maryland.

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