No salvaging ‘Savages’

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of decision to eliminate nickname

By Al Stover, Eagle Life Editor

Photo by: Aaron Malmoe The "Sacajawea" The 'Bird Women' statue, under glass in Showalter Hall, was presented to Cheney State Normal School, a previous name used by Eastern, by the class of 1916.
Photo by: Aaron Malmoe
The “Sacajawea” The ‘Bird Women’ statue, under glass in Showalter Hall, was presented to Cheney State Normal School, a previous name used by Eastern, by the class of 1916.


March 6, 2013 Editor’s note: The mascot for Stanford University was described incorrectly in print. They are actually known as the Stanford Cardinal.

It was 2004 when a group of students wore a “throwback” jersey with the words EWSC Savages and a caricature of an American Indian on the front to a men’s basketball game.

This was 32 years after the board of trustees voted to discontinue having Savages as the university’s mascot due to Savages being a derogatory and demeaning term to the American Indian population. Students were allowed to vote on a new mascot. Savages won with 950 votes, according to a 1973 article in The Easterner.

Refusing to change their stance on the nickname, the board created a committee to find a new mascot, which they did, called the Lakers. Angry with the committee’s choice, the students referred to the university’s mascot as the No-Names. In July 1973, students voted for a new mascot, which became the “Eagles.”

Although 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the change, the nickname continues to emerge on the university landscape.

Prior to appearing at the 2004 basketball game, The Easterner printed an article about two students who had made and sold the “throwback” jerseys. They had scanned an image of the American Indian caricature that was embossed on the brick steps in front of the Phase building.

Kim Murphy-Richards, an adjunct professor in the American Indian Studies program, was attending EWU when the “throwback” jerseys were being sold on campus and worn at the basketball game.

“What was horrendous was not just that it was at a basketball game, but that there were other native players on the other team that were Navajo,” Murphy-Richards said. “Imagine someone screaming ‘Savages’ while you were playing, especially given the contemporary outlook on native students.”

According to Deidre Almeida, Director of American Indian Studies, all of the jerseys were confiscated, and the students were told they had to stop selling the jerseys because of copyright infringement.

Murphy-Richards, as well as other students, staff and faculty, American Indian and non-native, contacted the dean of students and The Easterner to discuss why the image was problematic.

“We said, ’This mascot keeps coming back and students don’t realize why it’s so detrimental and we feel that we need to remove this mascot from public spaces,’” Murphy-Richards said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t archive it and talk about the history and where it came from, but it’s gone. It was removed for a reason. The board of trustees removed it, and it was during a period of time when many schools were changing their mascots.”

This was followed by a successful movement to have the bricks with the image of the “Savage” removed from the Phase. Despite the threat of alumni possibly ceasing monetary donations, the bricks were sandblasted, removing the offending image.

Murphy-Richards said there was a plan to keep one of the bricks and have a memorial about it to educate students on why the mascot was changed from the Savages to the Eagles.

According to Stacey Morgan Foster, Vice President of Student Affairs, there are no current plans for a memorial with the bricks. She recommended that students who would like to see such an institution on campus should go to the ASEWU, who would evaluate the request and make recommendations for the university on what they would like to see.

Other incidents where the Savage nickname has appeared include: the 2010 “Savage Cup” competition put on by the Athletic Training Staff and the Varsity Equipment Staff and “Fort Savage Eagle,” which was the name of the area where the ROTC would fire their Howitzer during football games in 2011. The men’s rugby team used “Savages,” as their name as recently as this year.

In an email sent by Rick Scott, EWU coordinator of club sports, the team has been asked to “cease the usage of the name as it is not appropriate terminology.”

According to Laurie Connelly, associate to the president, no students, groups or teams are allowed to use the name “Savage,” as a mascot or as a name of an event.

“[The event] would not be sanctioned by the university,” Connelly said. “Our mascot is the Eagles.”

Psychological effects of American Indian mascots

Murphy-Richards, a recipient of the McNair Scholarship, used her research grant to look into the correlation between violent crime and the psychological effects on American Indians and how they internalized mascots and internalized the negative connotations with the mascots.

She found a study done by Stephanie Fryberg, who researched both the positive and negative effects American Indian stereotypes had on native students.

“When she rated their overall self-esteem and self-efficacy, it was pretty normal,” Murphy-Richards said. “When she showed those negative and positive stereotypes, self-esteem and self-efficacy went down. This shows how native students internalize that and they start to think less of themselves.”

In the research paper “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots,” published in the journal “Basic and Applied Social Psychology” back in 2008, Fryberg and her colleagues write that negative stereotypes are associated with performance in various domains. When they are presented in a classroom setting, American Indian students “perform less well on tests.”

According to the Center of Disease Control, the suicide rate of American Indian and Alaskan Natives from ages 15 to 34 is two-and-a-half times higher the national average for that age group.

Through Fryberg’s research, Murphy-Richards also learned that when non-native people were exposed to the same stereotypes, their self-esteem and self-efficacy went up.

Besides changing the self-esteem and self-efficacy of American Indian children, the use of mascots covers up the reality of American Indian communities and people by forcing them toward an archetype resembling the stereotype of American Indians living in teepees and having long braids.

Murphy-Richards took her research and information she found in the Spokesman-Review about the life situations of American Indians in the Spokane area to the Alumni Association to present the real-life consequences of the stereotypes affecting native students. She also showed the correlation between mascots and the justification of hate crimes inflicting on native people.

Ban on American Indian Mascots

EWU is not the only university to have done away with the American Indian mascots. Stanford University changed their mascots from the Indians to the Cardinal in 1972, according to the Jay Rosenstein Productions website. In the same year EWU dropped the Savages, the University of Oklahoma dropped their Little Red mascot.

In 2005, The National Athletic Collegiate Association ruled that colleges with mascots that were deemed “hostile or abusive” would not be allowed on team uniforms or any type of clothing during postseason play. There were initially 18 schools whose mascots, most of which referenced American Indians, were deemed “hostile or abusive” by the association including the California State University Stanislaus Warriors, who developed a Warrior Hawk mascot, and Arkansas State, who changed their nickname from the Indians to the Red Wolves. Most of these universities changed their nicknames, logos and mascots.

Some schools have been allowed to continue using American Indian mascots as long as they had permission from local tribes. This includes the Florida State Seminoles and Central Michigan Chippewas.

History of EWU's mascot
History of EWU’s mascot