By: Liam Wilson
In a petition that has been buzzing around campus this month, Professor Holly Andersen argues that etymological history and unfortunate coincidence, in combination with recent events, are cause to rethink the SFU sporting moniker, “the Clan.” She argues that it is overly evocative of the KKK, particularly because we play in an American league, and that to continue under this team name would be incredibly disrespectful.
However, with the KKK’s history going back over a century, why is the public outcry over this word so recent? SFU’s football team has been playing under the “Clan/Clansmen” name since the school first opened in 1965. Perhaps we’re simply more attuned to social issues in 2017, but keep in mind that the ‘60s were heralded as the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
SFU has always been a very progressive school, yet in spite of the KKK’s high profile in North America at the time of our opening, it does not seem as if the name was seen as a problem then. In fact, this is the first time that this sort of petition for this reason has been brought forward and garnered attention, and SFU has never had any official, public accusations of white supremacy leveled against it.
The fact that SFU now plays against American teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association doesn’t change much about the situation either, because that’s not actually new. SFU competed against American teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics from 1965 until the late ‘90s. Throughout these years, athletes of colour have still played for and against SFU’s team.
I find it hard to believe that our name has such terrible impact, because even Andersen herself states in the petition that “[black student athletes] know that’s not what [we] mean by it.” Certainly, the fact that over 400 people have signed Andersen’s petition shows that there are people who take issue with the name. However, I wonder if changing the name is really the best way to fight the KKK’s influence.
SFU shouldn’t gloss over the negative connotations of the name, but that doesn’t mean we should allow the KKK to dictate and control our language. What it means is that we need to take the opportunity to show that the name “Clan” can be a symbol of pride and respect, by making the distance between ourselves and the KKK clear in our actions.
Though hate groups are on the rise in the US, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are only 5,000–8,000 members of the KKK in the US at the moment, and the Anti-Defamation League reports that the KKK is actually continuing to decline in membership. This does not, in any way, mean that the KKK should not be treated as a threat. However, with the organization being at a historical and ever-declining low, allowing them authority over our language and our name doesn’t hurt them — it gives their power back.
This isn’t about ‘wishing away’ or ignoring history. The history behind the KKK is tragic and awful. However, I believe that we can remember and learn from history while still moving forward.
Whether we keep the Clan name or not, the KKK will forever live on as a symbol to those who wish to continue their work, just as there will forever be neo-Nazis, hard-line fascists/communists, and other similar groups. What we can do is show solidarity and lack of fear towards an organization that has so much terrible history in North America.
We can host events, presentations, or exhibitions on SFU’s Scottish roots and how they’ve influenced the school’s team names, identity, and mascot choice to show what “Clan” means for us. We can hold fundraisers to raise funds for charities and organizations that works towards ending racial hatred. We can publicly denounce hate crime and those who perpetrate it. If we solidify action plans to fight racism and hate crime into SFU tradition, we can do much more work towards opposing racist ideologies and making the meaning behind the word “Clan” clear.
Undoubtedly, if we continue to use the “Clan” name, we will draw criticism. However, I think that there is still a lot of good to be explored in our team’s name, and through this exploration, I believe we can strengthen our bonds as a school while standing against an organization that has inspired fear in our hearts for too long.