On June 30, the Board of Regents of Southeast Missouri State University will consider a proposal to make official changes to the University's name and mascot. There has been much discussion in public and private about the issues surrounding the use of "Indian" and "Otahkian" nicknames, and much had been written about the groups who have publicly endorsed their retirement. As the first group to advocate the change, the Alumni Association is compelled at this important time in the life of the University to provide further explanation for our recommendation.
Throughout the past two decades, a number of groups have actively promoted a change in the school nickname and mascot. However, the Alumni Association chose a passive role. We felt it unnecessary to participate in the potentially divisive issue. However, in 2003, when it became clear to us that the absence of a widely-accepted nickname and mascot was hurting the reputation of the University among other institutions, the NCAA and even the school spirit of our current students, we could be passive no longer.
In response, a special subcommittee was formed to study the issue and present findings to the Alumni Association Board of Directors - a group of more than 30 alumni volunteers - at our July 2003 meeting. It is important to mention that two of three subcommittee members were former athletes who had previously expressed their views against changing the mascot. This was deliberate to ensure that any recommendation advocating a change was subject to a high degree of scrutiny, and was in the end more valid.
When the report was presented, there was consensus that our decision would need to be based on facts, separated from our own emotions. We could not rely solely on our memories of the once beautiful traditions surrounding the Indian nickname and mascot, such as the solemn pre-game ceremony of the Indian Chief and Princess overlooking the football field - a unifying tradition for Southeast students in the past. Rather, we had to make a decision in the best interest of the entire Southeast family; students of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
It was clear to us that the majority of students from recent years held little or no allegiance to the symbolic "Indian." In addition, there is little indication that the symbol will ever again resonate with Southeast students as it did with many of us some years ago. How different my memories of college would be without those special pride-filled symbols!
When the vote of the Alumni Association came, the near-unanimous assent was in favor of retiring the Indian nickname and mascot with honor, while working with the students and other organizations to identify and lift up a new and meaningful tradition for generations of students to come.
For the good of the institution, it is our hope that the Board of Regents will seize this moment and endorse a change that, while not easy, is obviously needed and warranted. Let's move beyond this question and begin to celebrate a unifying symbol and rallying cry that will unite our alumni, students and community. Our hope is that generations of future alumni will feel the same sense of pride and tradition that we continue to feel for Southeast Missouri State University.
Mike Parker '67, president
Southeast Missouri State University