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Page 2 / IDEAS, TRENDS, STYLE AND BUZZ | Postscript

Wheaton's Inoffensive Mascot Comes From Above

October 10, 2000|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The quest for a politically correct Christian mascot for Wheaton College has ended.

The former Crusaders are now . . . the Thunder.

The decision concludes two years of soul-searching and debate at the conservative Illinois college, whose alumni include evangelist Billy Graham. A few months ago, Wheaton's president sacked the Crusader emblem, saying it was too barbaric for modern times and offensive to Muslims and Jews.

A committee was appointed to find a "gender-neutral," "heroic" and "cheer-able" replacement. After reviewing about 550 suggestions, the group settled on Thunder, in part because of its biblical association with divine power.

Never mind that nobody knows what thunder looks like or how to illustrate it on team uniforms. The key thing, apparently, is that it won't offend anyone.

"Maybe weather symbols are the way to go," jokes history professor James F. Powers of Massachusetts' Holy Cross, another Christian college with a besieged Crusader mascot. "Weather is an impersonal force of nature," so it can't be accused of ethnic or religious bias. Perhaps schools will switch to mascots such as Wind or Breeze or Drizzle, he says.

At Wheaton, the new nickname found quick acceptance. When the mascot was announced Sept. 29 to a throng of students, faculty and alumni attending homecoming festivities in the school's refurbished gym, crowd members began stomping their feet in the bleachers, creating a thunderous rumble.

The only sign of dissent, says Wheaton spokeswoman Patricia Swindle, was a former school president who said the new nickname would "take some getting used to."

Meanwhile, at several other Christian colleges with Crusader mascots, debate over the issue simmers. At Lutheran-affiliated Valparaiso University in Indiana, the student newspaper recently published an opinion piece urging officials to rethink the mascot.

No reaction so far.

Ditto for Holy Cross, which is Catholic. Despite a handful of anti-Crusader letters from alumni, "there has been no formal call for a name change, and the college administration hasn't undertaken any consideration of the issue," says Katharine Buckley McNamara, the school's public affairs director. "I suspect it will continue to bubble just below the surface."

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Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is roy.rivenburg@latimes.com.

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