By: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer
It’s no secret to the SFU community that our athletics teams are represented by an embarrassing and dangerously misleading name: “The Clan.” Meant as an homage to SFU’s Scottish roots, the name is more ubiquitously associated these days with the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), especially when teams travel to the US.
Although athletes and professors have been speaking out against the name’s racist undertones for years, only now, in the midst of a conversational eruption on racialized violence, has the gravity of the name been given serious consideration by the university administration.
The Clan may appear to be “just a name” with an unfortunate connotation to some. However, for SFU’s Black students, athletes, and the teams they play, it is a harmful and direct call-back to the violent racist regimes that have enabled and allowed for the continued dehumanization of Black and brown people over multiple generations. When it comes to basic safety and respect of students’ lived experiences, SFU should be prioritizing students above all else.
Black students at SFU have once again, in recent weeks, expressed the frustration of playing under a name that carries the connotation of being subordinate to white people. Mason Glover, a football player and student at SFU, expressed the difficulty of representing “The Clan” when, as he put it, the name is “the same name as someone that is out to kill you.” What Mason is referencing, of course, is the KKK.
The KKK — an organization purely aimed at erasing Black people and establishing white supremacy — has a well-documented legacy of brutality and racist mass-murdering. But it’s important to remember that even though the group is most often associated with the US, Canada is not exempt from a history of racialized violence; the KKK made an appearance here as well. While many Canadians have the privilege to simply ignore this history, any reference to the KKK — including having “clan” in a team name — is a painful reminder of this legacy to our Black communities.
Which is why it is so important to seriously reevaluate the necessity of the words and titles we institutionalize. When taken outside of history, “clan” is as benign as any other word. Unfortunately, words don’t exist in cultural vacuums. They adopt associations and meanings that must be accounted for, even in situations where those allusions aren’t intended. Frankly, I and many other students find it impossible to hear “The Clan” any differently than its racist connotations to the KKK. Isn’t it considerably shameful for an institution to maintain a name that demeans the very existence and excellence of its Black student body? The bare minimum for any university, especially one that claims diversity and acceptance, is to ensure all of its students feel equally safe.
And let’s be clear, this is absolutely a safety issue as much as it is an issue of basic human respect. Instances of harassment are widely known to have occurred, even to the point where Black student-athletes have experienced racist remarks — Glover described recounting instances of mockery from other teams’ athletes when travelling in the southern United States.
Doreen Anane-Bediakoh, a student-athlete playing for SFU’s soccer team, expressed how she feels like the name “has allowed for people to be offensive because it has given other people the ammunition, the power they need to attack Black folks.” She explained how being affiliated with a name that historically undermines the existence of Black people has destroyed any attempts at claiming Black self-empowerment.
Up until very recently, attempts to change the name have all failed. Glover spoke on how just last year, there was a survey that went out in which a majority of athletes expressed a desire for a name change; SFU, however, “ran out of time to address the issue further.” He further noted how shortly after, word went out that “alumni and donors were threatening to withdraw funding from our athletics program” because a name change would be, as quoted from an anonymous alumni, misappropriating “the Scottish heritage of Simon Fraser.” If this is true, the human dignity that has been sacrificed in exchange for money is grotesque and embarrassing.
Ultimately, there is no room for “school pride” when that school insists on a name that brings its athletes feelings of discomfort and shame, evokes ideas of terror, and mobilizes racist commentary against the very athletes who carry our sports teams. Even though SFU has formally announced its commitment to dropping the name, it is important that actions follow these promises and that the collective action of students, athletes, coaches, and professors doesn’t become another “thing of the past.”
To further engage in activism on this topic, check out Othniel Spence’s article on the name’s impact on Black athletes. There is also a GoFundMe you can consider donating to, and an email template you can fill out and send to administrators.