The howling winds of November 24th weren’t the only thing in Bellingham, Washington that had those of us who attend Western Washington University talking.  The day before the Thanksgiving holiday, outgoing President Bruce Shepard announced that classes had been cancelled.

The announcement e-mail (a copy can be seen here) stated that threats had been made towards minority students that were above the nature of “trolls.”  The threats apparently came from Yik Yak, the anonymous social media app.  Suggestions have been made that these threats were in a response to a piece in the student paper, “The Western Front” suggesting the school replace “Vikings” with some other mascot.  (For the record, President Shepard has said that the school will not be changing mascots in the near future.)  It is unclear if the people who made the threats are students at Western or not.

Not wanting to see my school go down the same path as the University of Missouri, I think some things about this situation need to be addressed in the context of what has been going on elsewhere in the country.

Mascots

After reading the piece in “The Western Front,” it appears that the days of the left solely going after the Washington Redskins may now be turning into a crusade against any non-animal mascots.  The name “Redskins” is said to be offensive to Native Americans, and now the name “Vikings” is also problematic.  Why?  Because it is a “hyper masculine, hyper violent sort of image which is doubly problematic.”  Another student quoted in the paper goes onto say that “As a student of color, it’s also really weird to have a person as a mascot rather than an animal, because it can be interpreted differently.”

The point of a mascot is not to relate to the actual character, but rather the ideas it invokes.  Before I was a Viking in college, I was a Knight in high school, and I never thought to relate to metal-clad medieval combatants in Europe.  Instead, knights were supposed to be noble and have a sense of honor, characteristics that transcends racial lines.  Similarly, Vikings should invoke a sense of strength and conquest in battles (athletic, of course), not encourage us to all be “hyper masculine” or “hyper violent” on campus.

Threats, Yik Yak, and Administrators

If the threats made on Yik Yak were serious threats, then the university obviously has to take that seriously.  On the other hand, it is not as if people never say anything stupid or offensive on Yik Yak, Twitter, Facebook, or various other social media platforms.  It is hard to have an informed opinion when the official line out of the administration is “We can’t say anything because of an active investigation.”

However, considering the events at the University of Missouri were based on lies, half-truths, and other unprovable accusations that have been addressed elsewhere, it would serve the Western community well if the University and law enforcement could release more specifics as time goes on.  Those who believe the official talking points out of Mizzou should wait for more facts to come out at WWU, especially given President Shepard’s previous comments on race.

I don’t know what the difference between a stupid joke and a legitimate threat is legally, especially when it is delivered anonymously on social media where tone of voice is eliminated.  However, I am inclined to believe that, given that law enforcement said there was no threat to campus, that President Shepard overreacted by cancelling classes.

While many details about the threats are still unknown, I do know one thing: Western Washington should not change the school mascot.  The belief that “because I don’t like something, it must change to suit my feelings” is a part of the entitlement mindset that has consumed our country, and it must end.