SFU needs to decide who we are and what we stand for

SFU has good reason to renounce “the Clan” — but we need something unifying and strong to replace it

By: Aliocha Perriard-Abdoh

It’s not news that we cannot please everyone. However, we should always be open to the possibility of change, especially when that change might make us a better, more inclusive, and more socially aware campus. With the political tension just south of the border, individuals are getting offended by SFU’s sports team name.

You may or may not be aware of this, but SFU’s athletes compete under the name “the Clan.” Back in the day, it used to be “the Clansmen,” but it has since changed (probably to be more inclusive of the female athletes who compete shoulder-to-shoulder with the men). The name is in honour of the Fraser Clan and Scottish explorer Simon Fraser. Simon Fraser University has always had a proud line of Scottish tradition.

The first school newspaper at SFU was called The Tartan, and the current SFU mascot is a Scottish terrier named McFogg the Dog, after SFU’s inaugural president, Patrick McTaggart-Cowan. He earned the title “chief meteorologist” during World War II. The other aviators took to calling him “McFog” after a grueling period of poor weather (not unlike the weather we sometimes get at SFU.)

With all that Scottish history, it isn’t surprising that SFU feels strong ties with our heritage. However, it is always important to question history and tradition, especially due to the current state of socio-political affairs.

Recently, professor Holly Andersen took initiative and started a petition demanding that we change the name “Clan.” This wouldn’t be the first time that we, at SFU, have been under scrutiny for holding onto our roots and traditions. This petition is being held on change.org and, at the time of writing, has just over 200 supporters.

“The word ‘Clan’, which sounds the same spelled with a K or a C, has a century or more of horrible history in the United States, one which continues very visibly in hate rallies and acts of terror in the South,” the petition argues. “This is not a history we can just wish away by saying, ‘but that’s not what WE mean by it!’ We don’t get to decide all by ourselves what words mean.”

As Canada’s only NCAA team, our sports teams compete predominantly against American teams. Would it not come off wrong for us to compete against Black American athletes under the name “the Clan”? Does it not, then, make sense to change the name out of respect and good sportsmanship?

Though it pains me to say this, as an SFU student athlete, this is a convincing argument. Mallory Velte, a student athlete on the SFU women’s wrestling team, says, “It makes sense changing the name because some people think it’s the Klu Klux Klan.”

Just as “the Clan” comes from Scottish tradition, so does some of the most terrible and racist actions of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK have burned crosses in the yards of African Americans. The act of lighting crosses began in Scotland, as a declaration of war. In the War of 1812, it called forth the Scottish clans to defend their lands from the other clans.

For some students, the name is not that relevant. SFU’s Tyler McLean says he isn’t affected by it. “I don’t know, it’s not what I think about when I think of SFU. I barely even think about how we’re called ‘the Clan.’ That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to the change. It would just have to be a name that makes sense and truly represents what we’re all about here at SFU.” McLean is part of the men’s wrestling team.

SFU student Yvomil Gosselin was more of the opinion that it was “social justice warriors” taking offence for no reason. “It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, there’s always going to be something someone can take offence to. We can’t cater to everybody and forget our school’s Scottish history.”

I myself am split on the decision. I understand why the change is necessary. However, if the change is to happen, there needs to be a strong consensus for the new name, as it will be the name that SFU’s sports teams rally behind when it comes time for competitions this season. I am personally not digging the suggestion of “the Highlanders.”  

Andersen has already sat down with SFU’s athletic director, Theresa Hanson, to discuss the possibility of SFU changing the name of our sports teams. Hanson says that the athletic department was aware of the issues “the Clan” raises for competitors south of the border and that they are “exploring [a] strategy.”

A meeting is scheduled for the third week of September to discuss the petition with SFU president, Andrew Petter.