Campus Controversy: The Fight To Remove EMU’s Racially Offensive Logo

June 01, 2015

The ACLU of Michigan has been working closely with Native American students at Eastern Michigan University to compel the university to permanently dump the racially offensive "Hurons" logo that the school decided to resurrect two decades after retiring the controversial symbol.

"Twenty years after Eastern Michigan rightfully dumped its old logo in the name of fostering an enlightened campus atmosphere that welcomes all students, university officials decided to resurrect this tired racist imagery," said Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's Racial Justice Project. "We'd like to know what influenced this bad decision. A modern public university should be no place for backwards thinking or dehumanizing symbolism. Indigenous peoples are not mascots, and EMU should stay out of the business of trafficking in their degradation."

(PICTURED: Old EMU "Hurons" logo, which the university recently brought back after dumping it in 1991 for being racially offensive)

In June 2015, in the wake of hostilities toward Native Americans on the campus, the ACLU of Michigan filed a request under the state Freedom of Information Act seeking information about the decision to bring back the old logo.

The organization also sent a letter to Eastern Michigan president Susan Martin asking her to get rid of the old Indian-head logo that the university began displaying anew on school's marching band uniforms in 2012.

The school replaced the logo and its "Hurons" nickname in 1991, changing its nickname to the Eagles. School officials said they got rid of the old logo and nickname 20 years ago out of concern within the university community and at the Michigan Civil Rights Commission over stereotypes associated with image.

Media reports have suggested that administrators returned the logo to the band uniforms in a nod to school tradition and pride. If so, it's curious that this symbolic expression of school "pride" is hidden under a flap on the band uniforms.

In criticizing the decision to bring back the old logo, the letter warns administrators against being insensitive to the ordeals of Native Americans and contends that Indian-themed symbols play a role in diminishing those experiences.

Reads the letter: "It is unfortunate that when considering concerns expressed by the First nations about mascots and logos, many outside of those communities evaluate that issue from their own perspectives and through a lens that has been colored by a long history of stereotypes, genocidal acts, bigotry, and instinctive, involuntary denial of history that for many people is simply too horrific to confront with honesty. On some level, denial of the actual historical experience of indigenous populations is facilitated by cartoonish or romanticized images of Indians, and this may explain why some individuals cling so tenaciously to controversial mascots."

In the years since the logo's return, Native American students on the school's Ypsilanti campus have complained of hostility toward them and fear that the return of the logo may play a role.

"Whether one accepts or rejects the suggestion that there is a causal connection between the logo and racially hostile acts," the ACLU letter to Martin reads, "events in combination (including the presence of the logo) can create what the law regards as a racially hostile education environment."

The ACLU of Michigan has partnered with the Native American Student Organization (NASO) and other community activists and concerned citizens to convince EMU to retire the logo permanently.

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