SFU faces renewed backlash for “Clan” athletics team name

Amid recent anti-racism protests, the debate has been reignited

Photo courtesy of SFU Athletics

Written by: Michelle Young, Staff Writer

This is a developing story that The Peak will continue to cover in future articles. 

SFU’s athletics teams, known as The Simon Fraser Clan, have recently been facing criticism for their name. While being criticized in the past, the rise of anti-racism protests has brought attention back to the controversial name. 

The Simon Fraser Clan references the Scottish heritage of SFU; however, people have noted that the name is often mistaken as an association to the white supremacy group, the Klu Klux Klan — especially when sports teams travel to the United States to compete. 

In 2017, a petition by SFU professor Holly Andersen was launched to retire the name due to its negative connotations and the risk it could potentially pose to SFU student athletes. The petition gained around 400 signatures, however it was also interpreted as being anti-Scottish. A survey conducted in the Spring 2019 semester found that 77 percent of student athletes want to change the name.

The Peak reached out to Andersen regarding the issue, in light of the recent discussion. In an email statement she wrote: “Words only get their meaning in usage, and [in] the United States, there is too much terrible history, and too much active white supremacy, that goes under the name shared with our sports team. While SFU may not intend any of these connotations in their name, it is, nevertheless, what that name means in the US, where we play as the only Canadian team in the NCAA.” 

In a 2017 interview with Burnaby Now, Coach Allison McNeill discussed the name change, stating that the SFU Clan is associated with family. She also said, “Maybe it has to be looked at, but I know, traditionally, [the name] was a positive thing for our team.” Former SFU athlete, Richard White also stated in 2017 that changing it would be like “giving in.” 

Andersen also noted in her statement that “no amount of pride in heritage magically erases that meaning in the US. No student athlete should have to suffer harassment and intimidation because we, safely on the sidelines, enjoy our memories of this name.”

In her conclusion, she stated: “This is time to do some hard reflecting on why we are so defensive about this name; and to sit with that discomfort. [ . . . ] This is the time to listen to others who have a very different experience, and they are telling us that this name does not convey the respect and sportsmanship we aspire towards.” 

The Peak also reached out to SFU Athletics and Recreation director Theresa Hanson for comments. Hanson said that a review process on the name “has been underway for several months within the university.” 

“We have heard from our current student-athletes, and we know the majority believes it is time for change. We are also aware of unacceptable incidents that our student-athletes and coaches have experienced due to the nickname.”

“I am committed to concluding these conversations by the end of the summer and [providing] an informed recommendation to the president in September,” Hanson stated.