The College of the Holy Cross will begin an “examination” this fall of its use of the name “Crusaders.” The Catholic college has organized a committee to determine what to do about the fact that its founding president owned slaves, and in an unclear train of logic, the name “Crusaders” has come under this committee’s scrutiny.
The word — which means one who fights for a holy cause — harkens back to medieval wars with non-Christian peoples. This connotation makes liberals uncomfortable, but it is remarkable in that it is exactly the reverse of the thinking that they use in justifying being offended at other names. The problem with names like the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins is that they allegedly disparage certain people (although studies indicate that they don’t care), yet “Crusaders” here comes under scrutiny not for being disparaging but for being approving. It doesn’t matter whether the group is a protected minority or part of Christian European history — where there’s a will, there’s a microaggression.
One might think that a school called “the College of the Holy Cross” could get away with a stridently Christian name, but reporting from the Worcester Business Journal provides a bevy of earnest musings from sundry branding experts and ethics professors about how challenging this matter is. So now, alumni are having to make a show of expressing their support for their own alma mater’s name to the school itself.
Not one to understate things, ethics and society professor Mark P. Freeman said the potential name change “is a question of whether the symbol and image of the Crusader resonates with our deepest held values, beliefs, and ideals.” If they became the Holy Cross Hawks, would that resonate with their deepest values, beliefs, and ideals? I’m no ornithologist, but my guess is no.
The name “Crusaders” does not disparage anyone, elevate a particular philosophy, or justify slavery. It is a sports-team name referencing knights from a thousand years ago. Its importance is mostly a function of being a cultural touchstone for people in the Holy Cross community. It appears in all sorts of things, from the “S.A.D.E.R.” program (Student Ambassadors Developing External Relations), to countless shirt, pens, and bags.
The name doesn’t hurt anyone, and to jettison it over guilt about slavery is silly. Other actions could actually address that issue: Holy Cross could put extra scholarship money toward tuition for slaves’ descendants, or it could sponsor research about their lives.
What is certain not to help is changing an established and unrelated aspect of the college’s identity.