(CNN) — Students who attend Valparaiso University are Crusaders no more.
The Lutheran university, aligning with schools and professional sports teams that have recently nixed racist mascots, has announced it will replace its mascot, the Crusader, because of its usage by hate groups.
The Crusades represent a period in Medieval history when Christians enacted violent expeditions against Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land.
They are also the namesake of an official Ku Klux Klan newspaper.
“The negative connotation and violence associated with the Crusader imagery are not reflective of Valpo’s mission and values, which promote a welcoming and inclusive community,” the university’s interim president, Colette Irwin-Knott said in a news release.
The decision has ended a debate among students, faculty and alumni which had intensified in recent years, according to the release.
Students and alumni have wanted this for decades
The conversation about whether the Crusader accurately reflected the university’s values had been a long one, but it gained momentum in June 2020, when a coalition dedicated to replacing the Crusader grew to over 2,000 members on Facebook in a matter of weeks.
In a news release from the Coalition to Retire the Crusader, alumna of the university, Linda Funke, said she was a part of efforts to retire the mascot in the mid-2000s — but the origin of those efforts dates even earlier.
“I know there have been several attempts to convince the University Board of Directors to retire the mascot dating back to the 1970s, but those efforts never gained as much traction as this current one,” she said in the release.
One organizer of the coalition, alumnus Kevin York, told the university newspaper, The Torch, that he feels “good about the direction of the university” after the decision, looking forward to a mascot that is more unifying than divisive.
Many are supportive, but resistance looms
Jenna Rifai, a student at Valparaiso, told the university’s newspaper that the mascot had always made her uncomfortable.
“As a Muslim, I was embarrassed to come to Valpo because the school’s mascot was a Crusader, even though my mom and older siblings went here before me,” Rifai said. “I know it seems like a small little image, but that image holds power. Symbols hold power.”
Other students remain resistant to the change.
An anonymous athlete told the newspaper said they believe the mascot change betrays one of Valparaiso’s “strongest characteristics” as a Lutheran university — tradition.
There are more changes to come
Irwin-Knott said in the news release that the university is, and has always been, a faith-based institution.
“… we want to make sure our symbolism is in alignment with our beliefs and speaks to the core values of the Lutheran ethos,” she said.
In the coming months, Valparaiso will nix its Crusader logos and imagery while forming a committee to consider a new mascot.
The university will continue to share information with the Valparaiso community about the mascot selection process.