1972: Speaking My Language

I was always on board with changing the name of the campus newspaper, though particularly so since I launched the first “1972” column and began to regularly write for our campus publication in 2016. Attaching the name Crusader to every piece of writing I put on the internet not only rose the eyebrows of those outside the Holy Cross community, but reflected poorly on every piece I wrote for the paper that was published online. I’m in the camp that believes red flags were thrown left and right upon the community realization that The Crusader Journal is the name of the Ku Klux Klan’s publication. Until an article about Holy Cross’ decision to keep the Crusader mascot was published last week, typing “The Crusader, newspaper” into google linked the searcher not to the Eggplant’s fake public safety blotters or the Culture section’s “Peep my Crib” spreads, but to the articulations of white nationalists. Yikes.

Last week, the College of the Holy Cross announced their intent to maintain “the Crusader” as a mascot and moniker. Father Boroughs, President, released a statement about the decision, which offered: “we choose to associate ourselves with the modern definition of the word crusader, one which is representative of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and our mission and values as an institution and community” as an explanation.

But language doesn’t work like that, does it?

Throughout this discussion of the moniker, many of my peers (and now the administration in defending the mascot) referenced the Catholic identity apparently expressed by the word “Crusader.” Such argument pointed, as Father Boroughs did, to the definition of “Crusader” that renders it an innocuous, even holy verb:  “to mark with the sign of the cross.” At premise, this reads as a true and literal application of the word “Crusader” and a defense that concretely stakes a significant portion of the College’s Catholic identity on a correct application and on marketing’s deployment of the word. Etymologically, this understanding emerges with the context of a selective and limited framing.  To truthfully trace the word “Crusader” back its origins with literal context requires acknowledging the call Pope Urban made in the 1090s for what became known as the Crusades. The earliest record of the verb “crusader” from the French “croise,” and understood in the same context that it is applied and defended by our administration, appeared in the early 13th century (according to the Oxford English Dictionary).  Pope Urban did not originally describe “Crusaders” because the word did not exist. At its advent, “Crusader” became linked and retroactively applied to describe the events of religious and ethnic cleansing justified to reclaim the Holy Land by those in the 13th century (OED)  and subsequently, ever since. With such etymological awareness, “Crusader”— contextualized with its literal definition—becomes inalienably linked to what some have bemoaned as an overwrought historical definition. The word emerged and was immediately applied specifically and retroactively to reference the acts of religious violence known as the “Crusades.”

In explaining the etymological interpretation and significance behind the application of “Crusader,” I square off with the argument that claims the duty of a Catholic school— a Jesuit school— is to reclaim the word “crusader” in order to bring the term back to its original understanding or significance. We must bring, as many articulated, “the ‘Crusader’ back to its (his) literal roots.”  Again, candidly, I must point out that this is not the way language works now, or will work at some future moment. Think of the ugliest articulations of power— often heinous slurs—and now consider what would happen if the powerful who invented and emphasized those words as their artifice of oppression suddenly looked to “take the word back” as an act of power. Make no mistake: I do not consider “Crusader” to carry the same oppressive, historic weight of slurs, particularly ethnic slurs.  I gesture to slurs because I want to make explicit and evident the misappropriation of power at the core of such attempts to reclaim. A school in the Catholic tradition should not “take back” the word “Crusader” because the tradition which spawned the Crusades exerted power and infamous violence while boldly understanding themselves as “Crusaders.” In other words, the attempt to “take back” the term “Crusader” falsely contextualizes the longstanding application of the word, both by a community that understood itself as “Crusaders” and invalidates the history of those suppressed during the crusades. Our sensibilities should be alarmed, not soothed, by such an argument.

Bemusedly, why should we look to celebrate one of the darker moments in the Catholic Church’s history? Those outside the Holy Cross community do not understand the “Crusader” as a specific reference to “those marked by the cross.” From a business and marketing standpoint, I would think it advantageous to have a mascot that appears innocuous in the eyes of all. If we were serious about touting the “Crusader” as the largest external signpost signaling the College’s commitment to a Catholic identity, maybe we should consider one of the brighter moments in history. I’m at the point of facetiously seriously suggesting we become the “loaves and fishes” (Matthew 14:13-21) or the “Romeros,” to honor the famed Jesuit Archbishop Oscar Romero. We could even have all the apparel in the bookstore made by Homeboy Industries, to celebrate the Catholic message and goodwill evident in the work of Father Greg Boyle.  While my above suggestions for a potential new moniker might be ridiculous proposals for a college mascot, they are no more ridiculous than asserting that the Catholic identity of a college can be expressed in no finer fashion than by retaining a “Crusader” as a mascot.

Which brings me to the “but, tradition” argument made for the “Crusader”: I love this school, which is why I write this piece. I compete for our school in the Patriot League, and proudly wear a uniform emblazoned with a huge “HC.” I scream “Sader Nation” just as loudly as the rest. But I want us to be better, to look further than we now imagine possible. I urge students to think beyond what our adrenal glands may view as an attack on Holy Cross values and the community of educators, friends, and family we hold so dear. Instead of frantically shaking the snow globe of the “Crusader question,” may we pause to let the water and particles separate, to see with clarity what remains at the core of our planetary orb of well-educated questioning.  In March of 2000, Pope John Paul II issued several apologies and spoke to the tragic events and decisions affected by the Catholic Church’s decisions or neutrality at different moments in history. Pope John Paul II alluded to the Crusades and to other Catholic Church-sanctioned events, and referenced a December 1999 document published by the International Theological Commission. The 1999 Treatise maintained that moments of the Church’s history should not be “reducible to the framework of the present, but possess an objective density and complexity that prevent them from being ordered in a solely functional way for present interests.” While this insight may be misunderstood as a call to keep “the Crusader”, after some evaluation, sustained reading reveals a call to “review historical and theological evaluations…[To liberate] personal and communal conscience from all forms of resentment and violence that are the legacy of such past faults,” to separate the truth of such faults from a defensive dismissal as an ad hominem attack. In the very introduction of the Treatise, the leadership of the Catholic Church makes clear that a response from such re-evaluation of these events “should lead – if done correctly – to a corresponding recognition of guilt and contribute to the path of reconciliation.”

One final thought: when the faculty of the College of the Holy Cross first submitted a letter requesting a formal review of “the Crusader,” a spark ignited. At present moment, in the moments after the administration and board of trustees decided to keep the mascot, the same spark has not gone out. The question at hand was not settled by the decision rendered by the board and the administration. The surf became too volatile— the churn of historical and theological interpretation and insights too powerful. The ruling of stasis seems comparably unimportant to the board of trustees actually meeting and convening over the issue.  “The Crusader” may be here for a few years, but the loud and repeated questioning of its legitimacy means it will never again hold a storied position of the same caliber as the mascot of the College of the Holy Cross. In summation: We could have been the ones to change the mascot, but instead will remain relegated to some future Wikipedia article footnote:  “While the Crusader mascot was brought into question in 2016-2017, a 2018 convening of the institution’s board of trustees determined the moniker would remain. The mascot was eventually changed in ____________, and the Crusaders became the ____________. ”

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