Faculty Members Hold Panel Discussion: Calling Ourselves Crusaders: What’s in a Name?

By Jackie Cannon, News Editor

On Tuesday, April 11, six Holy Cross faculty members, as well as Rev. John F. Baldovin, S.J., ’69, Professor of Historical and Liturgical Theology at Boston College, served on a panel on the topic of the Crusader name-change debate. The panel consisted of Sahar Bazzaz, Associate Professor of History; Mark P. Freeman, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society, Psychology; Kendy M. Hess, Associate Professor of Philosophy; Vickie Langohr, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science; Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religious Studies; and Thomas M. Landy, Moderator, Director of the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture.

Landy began by emphasizing that this was not a debate about the use of the mascot itself; it was a discussion about the different academic perspectives which can be used to consider the controversy. Professor Hess started the conversation by stating that “none of us has a uniquely privileged insight” on this issue, and that, however we pursue it, we need to embrace our values.

Professor Bazzaz followed by speaking about the new discussions that the crusader debate is raising, including “othering,” and reevaluating the nature of the Crusades themselves. Professor Schmalz continued the conversation by reinforcing that, by calling ourselves Crusaders, we aren’t praising the historical actions of the crusaders, and the question is “whether or not you can separate the symbol of the Crusader from the history.”

Rev. Baldovin, a Holy Cross graduate, joined the conversation with his expression that “symbols take on a life of their own,” and his opinion that it might be a mistake to become too focused on just the historical context of the Crusades. Professor Langohr expressed that the Crusades have had a role to play in anti-semitism that we rarely recognize, but also the importance of recognizing that we often assess wars based on their outcomes without considering that the soldiers very likely were acting nobly and wanted to defend their country.

An interesting thought experiment that Professor Bazzaz mentioned is to think about how we would react if we were to encounter  the image of the Jihadi used as a mascot or symbol in the way that the Crusader is. And while this example is not exactly the same as the use of the Crusader, Professors Bazzaz acknowledged, it still allows us to begin to think about how the issue can be seen from the angle of other religions.

When he spoke, Professor Freeman said that “what the name Crusader means is going to be a dimension of what historical function we attach to it,” thus expressing how our different interpretations and understandings of the Crusades influence the message we send by having it as a mascot. Multiple professors, including Freeman and Baldovin, expressed their concern over the use of the sword specifically. Although for some, this could relate to Ignatius’ laying down of his sword to turn to the cross, this was not an important enough part of his life to be represented in our mascot, according to Rev. Baldovin, and “the shield would be plenty.”

The decision to change the mascot would allow for a new expression and evaluation of our identity of our values as a community, according to Professor Hess. She believes that, if we do change the mascot, it will allow us to begin a conversation on what the values of Holy Cross are, and how to best express them.

Additionally, Professor Langohr addressed the issue of the KKK newspaper bearing the name “The Crusader.” Because this issue was the focus of the letter written to the The Crusader by faculty members, encouraging a name change, Langohr stated her own belief that the KKK having the same name is not enough alone to change the name, but it is not something that is inseparable from the debate. Following her comment, Landy added that it does raise the question about just what about the idea of the Crusades is so appealing to people.

To conclude the panel discussion, Professor Freeman added that, in considering this controversy, we need to talk about the different constituencies involved, and whether or not any of them should have priority over the others, as well as how one of them will likely have to take priority in order for a decision to be made.

Following the discussion, audience members commented and asked the panelists questions. Many Jesuits spoke on the topic, and they particularly focused on Ignatius laying down his sword, and this representation of turning to the cross. There was also a discussion of how, at the moment, many students and alumni feel that their opinions are being dismissed, and this is something that we need to avoid going forward in order to promote positive debates on the topic.

One student raised the point that there has been a lack of education about the history of the Crusades at Holy Cross, and we need a more fair way to make all students aware of the historical context. Another student expressed that, despite his own Catholic beliefs, the symbol of the Crusader was his biggest concern when applying to Holy Cross, and this potential for pushing away students needs to be acknowledged as well.

At the same time, there are students who are apathetic toward this issue, as one student mentioned. Professor Hess responded by saying that faculty and students are in agreement that this is not the most pressing issue on campus, and not every student is going to want to take part in the debate, and that’s okay. Regardless, she expressed, the most important aspect is that we are having these conversations and discussions relating to the various  themes surrounding the controversy.

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