San Diego State students rallied on Monday to protest the Aztec mascot ahead of the University Council’s vote on a resolution to retire the mascot.
The Student Diversity Commission voted unanimously to send the resolution to the council during a meeting on April 10. The resolution was initially submitted to Associated Students by the Native American Student Alliance.
Protesters first organized in front of Hepner Hall, waving signs and using a loudspeaker to express their opposition to the Aztec name and moniker. Protesters later marched around campus, shouting their opposition to the mascot.
While rallying in front of Hepner Hall, MEChA member Michelle Parra directed her attention to faculty who stood nearby and observed the protest, and shouted at them to come closer.
“We’re here asking you all to represent us as students of color,” she said. “This is unacceptable that we are in this (educational system), and we are still having to deal with racism.”
Parra said she is not proud of the Aztec mascot or that many buildings on campus are named in the Aztec language, Nahuatl.
Participants in the rally said the Aztec mascot is racist, and a gross example of cultural appropriation.
One such student, creative writing master’s student Brooke Peterson, said it is not a question for her whether or not the mascot is offensive.
“It’s controversial in terms of like, there are very much people for and against it,”Peterson said. “But I don’t think that the issue of ‘is this racist or not?’ is controversial at all. I think all the research backs up the fact that it is racist, and I think the personal experiences of people who have to live with the impact also backs that up.”
She mentioned Ozzie Monge, a lecturer who wrote his dissertation on the use of the mascot, and Lydia Wood, a graduate student who she said is currently writing a dissertation on colonization.
“There’s a lot of research being done right here on the issue,” she said.
Other bystanders had mixed opinions on the protest and the Aztec mascot.
Sociology freshman Mykah Peters said she likes the uniqueness of the mascot, but understands the controversy over its use because it is an actual person.
“I don’t really see the Aztec anywhere else,” she said. “Like, when you think of a school, you think of an animal or something like that.”
Accounting freshman Nathan Youssef called the debate “stupid” and said the university is not going to change the mascot because students identify as Aztecs.
“I just think that it’s who we are,” he said. “And to change that is something that’s not right.”
Kinesiology senior Harrison Smith said he does not think the mascot has ever been a negative symbol.
“I think it always meant strength and power,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve ever appropriated Mexican or Aztec culture. I’m not for it or against it. I don’t think what they’re protesting against is true.”
Associated Students College of Arts and Letters representative Nick Elliott was present in the demonstration. He said he supports changing the mascot.
“I believe that it negatively affects a lot of communities on this campus,” he said.
Elliott said the push from alumni, athletics and other groups on campus to keep the mascot is misguided.
“I think that what they think they’re doing is right and justified, but I think they’re just blinded by privilege, frankly,” he said.
Center for Intercultural Relations Director Edwin Darrell called the protest an opportunity for students to voice their opinions.
“I think this is a student issue, at this point, and I’m here to support students to have these conversations,” he said.
Dean of Students Randy Timm said the university is making sure that there’s a space for students to be able to speak.
A.S. President-elect Chimezie Ebiriekwe said the protest was a great opportunity to bring awareness to the issue.
“Not a lot of students walking around campus know that there’s a resolution going through,” he said.
Ebriekwe said he would not take a position on the mascot until after he has been sworn out as Associated Students University Affairs Board Chair, and will oversee the vote.