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Wahoo Owner Now Trustee

by Adrian Leung

The owner of a team with what some consider to be a racist name and mascot is now on the Oberlin College Board of Trustees. Last December, Larry Dolan, owner of the Cleveland Indians, was elected to be a member of the Board.

"I can't believe the owner of a team with a racist name and mascot is determining the future of my educational institution," sophomore Jane Lee said.

Some argue that the Indians' Chief Wahoo logo is a derogatory caricature of Native Americans. The name "Indians" is a point of contention for the "People not Mascots" campaign. They argue that the use of "Indians" as the name for a sports team is disrespectful to the Native American peoples. Today Native Americans face encroaching government legislation and assimilation mentalities that continually alienate them in their own home.

Professor of history Moon-Ho Jung said, "It's clearly offensive. And I am as flabbergasted as I was when I first moved to Ohio every time I see that logo. I'm also flabbergasted that all Indian fans don't recognize its offensiveness."

Others claim that the team name and mascot are a tribute to honor the indigenous people of America. Assistant Vice President of Development Jane Janesco said, "I understand the arguments that people make, but I've been an Indians fan for too long. I'm not offended by the name. It was chosen out of respect for a specific Indian."

Scholar Susan Dominguez said, "The Cleveland Indians were named in a contest run by the Plain Dealer ‹ they were originally the Cleveland Spiders. At one time, very briefly, there was a Penobscot player, Louis Sockalexis, who left the team due to racism before the name was even changed."

Other names of restaurant chains and corporate characters, also considered racist, like Black Sambo's, now Denny's; and Frito Bandito of Frito Lays, have been abandoned. However, team names echoing real or imagined Native American titles like the Blackhawks, the Braves, and the Redskins ‹ still remain.

Jung said, "In the past there were logos like Śthe Chinks.' If ŚChinks' are no longer acceptable, how can Indians be?"

Professor of String Bass and academic advisor to the American Indian Council Peter Dominguez is pushing the College to take a stance on the issue, something the College has never done.

Dominguez said, "After some casual conversations with President Dye in the early spring of 1999, I remember sending her a packet of scholarly articles, at her request, regarding Native Americans and the mascot issue. I never received any acknowledgement from her about the materials nor did we speak about any Native American issues after that. A letter from AIC endorsed by students, staff, scholars, and faculty, was also sent to President Dye and the General Faculty Committee, requesting a dialogue about images of Chief Wahoo posted on College property. We did not receive any acknowledgement of that letter from Dye nor did the issue appear on the GF's agenda."

Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Multicultural Resource Center Rachel Beverly said, "On finding out that Larry Dolan was a trustee, I almost fell out of my chair. It surprises me that Oberlin would get a trustee that was related to a racist symbol like that. Oberlin's progressive history attracted me here. I've only been at the College for four months, but in my brief period here, I get the sense that it's not as progressive as it used to be. My impression is that students are more active than students at many other campuses, but they, and the administrative support have lightened up a little."

"The Oberlin College progressive tradition is becoming selective in what it caters to. There's an illusion of inclusion," Dominguez said.

Senior Kevin Gilmore said, "Being part of this Śprogressive' institution [Dolan] has an opportunity to exert some positive change in the community outside of Oberlin. Students are held as progressive minded people. The administration, including the trustees, should be held to the same standard."

Other people think progressive effort should be placed elsewhere. Senior Tristram Bogart said, "If it were up to me, I would change [the team and mascot]. But I find it hard to get upset about. I would agree with [Dolan] if he did, but I wouldn't go out of my way advocating for him to change it. Names of things don't strike me as the root of the problem. If I were to fight for something, it'd be more tangible than a name change."

Senior Amber Schulz, president of the American Indian Council, said, "People don't like to be wrong, and to change the mascot would be condoning that it was offensive in the first place. But the fact of the matter is that it is offensive, and they need to take care of it instead of perpetuating the stereotype."

College Secretary Bob Haslun expressed indifference. "I'm not a big baseball fan, but I've always found the anti-Indians/Wahoo argument non-convincing. I don't see it as racist, but I'm not an Indian," Haslun said.

Assistant Professor Laurie McMillin claimed that all people should be concerned. "Everyone should care about these egregious stereotypes of Native Americans. It's selfish to only care about the representation of your own ethnic group," she said.

"I don't want this to deteriorate into a hostile situation. I want to talk about this, have an honest discussion. This is an opportunity to educate Mr. Dolan," Dominguez said about the controversy.

"I try not to think about what our trustees do; it makes my stomach turn," Gilmore said.

Kathryn Stuart, assistant to the president, refused to answer questions before they were asked.

The Review was not able to reach Dolan for comment.

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Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 6, November 3, 2000

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