Vikings no more? Survey to be created to question Western mascot

**Editors note: The Western Front would like to clarify that this was a discussion about the mascot. There are no formal measure to change the mascot.

**Editors note: In an earlier version, The Western Front erroneously stated that a letter was sent to the Athletics Department to express concerns Michael Karlberg has regarding the mascot. The letter was not sent to the Athletics Department. 

Victor E. Viking is the face of Western, but some students and a professor are looking to change that.

The idea of changing the mascot was brought up at an Associated Students Board meeting earlier this month. Abby Ramos, the AS Vice President for Diversity, said that this conversation started in the summer to discuss changing the mascot to be a more inclusive figure.

Ramos and AS President Belina Seare received a letter from communications studies professor Michael Karlberg regarding the mascot.

“I think this mascot also reflects a sort of hyper masculine, hyper violent sort of image which is doubly problematic. I think we really ought to reconsider,” Karlberg said.

The Viking mascot has been in effect since 1923, University Communications Director Paul Cocke wrote in an email.

The letter was also sent to President Bruce Shepard, but neither responded to the email, Karlberg said.

“I was trying to invite a conversation about whether or not the mascot supports our commitment to diversity, our commitment to create a more safe and attractive and inclusive environment on campus,” Karlberg said.

Ramos had a personal interest in the matter, and decided to reach out to Karlberg when she assumed her position as vice president of diversity,

“[The mascot] doesn’t portray students of color on this campus and it can be very exclusive to students who are potentially looking at coming to Western,” Ramos said.

One of Karlberg’s students, Zach Welsh, started looking into the mascot issue and created a survey to gauge student reaction and opinion about the current mascot.

A clip from The Weekly Messenger, Western's newspaper in 1923, describing why Victor E. Viking was chosen. Courtesy of Paul Cocke.

A clip from The Weekly Messenger, Western’s newspaper in 1923, describing why Victor E. Viking was chosen. Courtesy of Paul Cocke.

The survey is planned to show mascots from different schools such as University of Washington and Gonzaga University and measure students reaction to the image. Ramos said she found UW’s husky mascot to be a lot more appealing.

Senior Josie Ellison, who identifies by they/them/their pronouns, is in favor of changing the mascot. Ellison currently works in the AS Representation and Engagement Programs as the legislative advocacy coordinator, but is representing their personal views in this article.

“I’m a big fan of the Western ferns because [they’re] plants and also non-violent,” they said.

Western is the only public four year institution in the state that doesn’t have an animal as a mascot. However, some private universities in Washington have people as mascots such as Whitman College’s Fighting Missionary and University of Puget Sound’s “Grizz” the Logger.

“As a student of color, it’s also really weird to have a person as a mascot rather than an animal, because it can be interpreted differently,” Ramos said.

Karlberg calls all racialized mascots problematic, regardless of the race.

Junior Alex Pham calls the Viking Western’s symbol of identity for current students as well as alumni.

“I feel our mascot is appropriate,” Pham said. “I feel we do respect the Viking heritage, and we’re not taking that name to make fun of other cultures. I think that’s what we do at Western — we don’t make fun of other cultures.”

Ellison said they feel no deep emotional connection to the Viking.

“I don’t know that it’s the best symbol to unite a campus around especially when you’re talking about how it gets used,” they said. “A lot of times it’s seen as pretty aggressive especially for athletics which I don’t think is very conducive to creating a good campus climate.”

The survey is still being finalized with an estimated distribution date yet to be announced.

 

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