When the Campus Senate met on Thursday, Feb. 4, there was one primary issue on the docket: a charge from President Sean Decatur about the prospect of changing Kenyon’s mascot.
Following the opening of the meeting, Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell, faculty co-chair of the Senate, spoke about his prior communication with Decatur on the issue. According to Tazewell, these conversations began in response to concerns about the symbols and images used by the College. As the bicentennial of the College approaches, Decatur looked towards reevaluating the meaning behind the Lords and Ladies mascots.
“It’s not a charge to start coming up with ideas on a new mascot, but it’s a charge to define … What do we actually mean by [mascot]? And can we define more generally, what are the expectations that we have about mascots on campus?” Decatur said. “Why the Lords and Ladies?”
These discussions come at a time when a number of sports teams, both collegiate and professional, have changed their mascots to be more sensitive to cultural connotations.
After this introduction, the floor was opened to the student members of the Senate, who generally agreed with the points put forth by Tazewell, relaying how many of their own experiences as student-athletes had led them to interact with the connotations of the mascot. Some students discussed how they thought the names could convey implicit racist and classist messages, causing other schools to ridicule Kenyon’s teams.
One speaker mentioned how, during her time with the cheer team, she heard other schools invoking the mascot names to mock Kenyon for having a snobbish attitude. While admitting that such chants were part and parcel of sporting events, she noted that the monikers could potentially push beyond the domain of taunting.
“You know the terms Lords and Ladies are being made fun of and ridiculed by other schools,” she said, “and obviously you’re going to do that at a sporting event, but I think it goes beyond that and that what we’re going to hear is that [the names] need to be changed.”
A significant amount of the discussion focused on the Ladies moniker, the roots of which can be traced to the early 1970s when Kenyon became a coeducational institution. Some expressed dissatisfaction of the potentially condescending implications of the term, stating that it did not project an image that they as student-athletes wanted to support.
These discussions of the mascot focused more on assessing its symbolic implications and gauging the tone of alumni opinion rather than bringing the change up for a public vote. As such, it is unlikely that any decision will be made, or any vote cast on the matter in the near future.
“President Decatur [spoke] to the Advancement Office and the Alumni Office to be sure that they had a heads up on the idea that we weren’t going to even consider [it],” Tazewell said, “because there will be a lot of people who have strong opinions about this.”