Whitman College Removes Mascot Named After Missionaries

Whitman College
(Photo : Adamsofen/Wikimedia/CC) The Memorial Building, Whitman College

Whitman College has announced that they have dropped 'missionary' from its mascot name last week, and are trying to find a new name.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin said that the "Fighting Missionary" as mascot, which honored two murdered missionaries, was not "appropriate" for the college.

The college had taken the decision after surveying 18,000 alumni and current students, out of which 62 percent said that they thought the missionary mascot was not appropriate for college.

Another news release by the Whitman College said that the missionary name was "divisive and doesn't represent Whitman's commitment to inclusion."

College President Kathleen Murray wrote in a memo addressed to the campus community that they wanted to have a mascot that was "appropriately inclusive and welcoming to today's Whitman community. I do not think a mascot ... should precipitate the difficult conversations around challenging ideas. A mascot is meant to be something around which supporters of a college, and particularly athletic teams, rally."

Whitman is a private liberal arts college in Walla Walla, Washington, founded in 1959. It was named after missionary couple Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, who were among the first settlers in the area and were later murdered.

The Whitmans had arrived in the Oregon territory in 1836, and had taken the gospel to Cayuse tribe in Walla Walla Valley. Though their intention was to "be useful" to the Indians, as Narcissa Whitman once wrote, and to share the gospel with them, many in Cayuse tribe took offense when Whitmans criticized "cultural practices of gift-giving" which was started by Euro-American marine captains as a means of inducing commercial transactions with the natives.

The college's website says that the Whitmans' "mission was to teach the Indians the gospel in the Presbyterian fashion and teach them the 'arts of civilization.' ... In 1847, measles broke out and decimated the Indians. Dr. Whitman treated both Indians and white settlers, and when so many Indians died despite treatment, Indian custom dictated revenge upon the medicine man. Thus the Whitmans were massacred, as well-meaning as they had been."

The school initially started as a seminary, but was changed into a full four-year college in 1882.

The college is also changing the name of its student newspaper, 'The Pioneer,' for reasons of "white supremacy."

"At the time the paper was founded, the college was in the midst of reinforcing a telling of history that celebrated the arrival of white invaders-pioneers-to the Columbia Plateau. Critically engaging in Whitman College's past, and, in particular, its relationship to settler-colonialism and white supremacy in the Inland Northwest, is extremely important. By changing the newspaper's name, we hope to encourage greater discussion and engagement with this history and move away from the traditional Whitman narrative," wrote the student body regulating the newspaper. The newspaper will be sending out surveys to the community and holding focus groups to decide its new name and brand, it stated.

The college was affiliated with the Congregational Church till 1907, but abandoned the status to aid fundraising, and convert the college into an advanced technical and science center. But this effort was not successful, and it returned to being a small liberal arts institution, but it never recommitted its affiliation with any denomination.

Tags Whitman College, College President Kathleen Murray, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman

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