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SFU Clan should pick a new name

Scottish origins of the name also influenced the other Klan

As one of Canada’s most prominent universities, you might expect that Simon Fraser University would strive towards a standard of diversity and acceptance that matches the reputation it puts forward in every sphere of student life. Saying that, it is time for our school to look into picking a new name for its sports teams.

It’s not Washington’s football team, but the Clan, the moniker for the 17 varsity teams at SFU, is named after the ancestors of Simon Fraser, the explorer of Scottish descent who is the namesake of our university. It makes sense at first glance, seeing as we base a lot of school symbolism — like our crest, our motto, and our tartan — on the Frasers of Lovat, Simon Fraser’s Clan.

We even got special permission to use the name from the Lord Lovat from 1965, who attended the school’s opening and gave his blessing for SFU to adopt the imagery of Frasers of Lovat into our school’s spirit.  

While the Clan comes from Scottish tradition, so do some of the more infamous actions of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). For example, cross-burning and the racist associations of lighting crosses on the yards of African American people’s houses in the USA actually began as an old Scottish act used for a declaration of war. It was used in the War of 1812, to call members of Scottish clans to defend their territory.

While this act is primarily associated with the KKK, it is worth noting that the roots of the notorious hate group are Scottish. The details of this are explored in depth in the novel The Clansman. In fact, the group was once known as the Kuklux Clan, combining the Greek kyklos (meaning circle) with a clan.

On top of its dubious historical connections, we should recognize the effect that even the word “clan” can have on our southern neighbours. With SFU primarily playing in the USA as the sole Canadian team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, changing the name to something with less questionable connotations would also be a sign of respect to those whose lives and heritage have been dramatically affected by the Klan.

The team wasn’t always named the Clan. They were originally named the Clansmen, but that name was changed long before any of the current students at SFU first got here. There isn’t a lot of information online, which leads me to speculate that it might be because of the implications of the word Clansmen, or the fact that women’s varsity teams deserved more respect.

With all due respect to “tradition” and “history,” this wouldn’t be the first school I’ve attended which has changed its team name; I know firsthand that it can be done. The teams from my high school, Western Canada High School in Calgary, were called the Redmen when I was a student there, and had been since the 1940s.

In 2014, the team changed its name to the Redhawks, with then-principal Kim Hackman saying that the name was changed to be more inclusive.

While universities and high schools don’t have the same culture surrounding them and they don’t exist on exactly the same plane, I feel as though this sets an example of how to acknowledge a name that is past its prime.

Members of the name-changing committee said they acknowledged the name wasn’t always seen as controversial. Then-student Mihnea Nitu told the Calgary Herald that, “It kind of became derogatory over time, which is why I’m OK with why we had to change the name and the reasons that we did.”

That’s the point we’re at with the Clan. It wasn’t always the wrong name, but it’s time that SFU moved on from a word that now carries such negative, emotional weight.

For what it’s worth, I’d suggest the Highlanders.