On Jan. 17, Lewis & Clark students received a survey regarding the Pioneer mascot. The survey, which will remain open until Feb. 7, asked for feedback and opinions on the school’s name, mascot and community values.
This past fall, President Robin Holmes-Sullivan formed the Mascot Steering Committee to engage the community in conversation and collect feedback for a recommendation to the President on whether or not to keep the mascot. The committee consists of students, faculty and staff. One of the members of the committee is Lori Friedman, the vice president of communications.
“A steering committee was put together so that there’s input from more than one perspective, but a number of different perspectives to kind of try to chart the way forward,” Friedman said.
A part of that path forward involves hearing from the LC community directly. Dr. Janet Bixby is a member of the Mascot Steering Committee and the director of Community Dialogues, an initiative aimed towards fostering healthy dialogical practices on campus. Before the survey was sent out, dialogues on the Pioneer mascot were held in October and November of 2023. Bixby provided the Committee’s reasoning behind sending out the survey.
“We’re looking (for) a number of different ways to get feedback. There’s been feedback that’s been more casual that people have given to staff around campus, but this was a way to get as much data, as many people’s input, in one fell swoop,” Bixby said.
Bixby spoke about how the Community Dialogues have played a role in the committee’s approach.
Community Dialogues Practitioners are trained by Essential Partners to facilitate dialogue between people with differing opinions. The Community Dialogues are intended as a space for open discussion rather than for finding a solution to the topic.
Abby Yamashita ’27 is a softball player and a certified Community Dialogues facilitator, as well as an attendee of two separate dialogues focused on the Pioneer mascot. Yamashita spoke of her experience in an athlete-only dialogue.
“For me that was really challenging because I just don’t know. That’s not my role. So I was just letting them problem-solve as they wished. But it was really interesting to hear the things that group came up with,” Yamashita said.
Yamashita then contrasted this experience with her second dialogue, which was between three older alumni and one current student.
“(The student) had perspectives that were very much of the younger generation and not feeling very tied to the Pioneer name, and some of these older men were just like, ‘I just don’t get it,’” she said.
“The one with the athletes, the students that were there understood that ‘pioneers’ is a controversial term in itself, and expressed a want for change in the mascot. But I think that they thought the community dialogues were more problem solving rather than just getting your opinions out,” Yamashita said.
Yamashita provided her own observations on what may cause differing opinions on the mascot.
“My opinion is that how many years removed you are from LC really changes your perspective. Because I think the newer generations obviously understand why this is harmful terminology, and why there’s a need to change it. The older generations just don’t see it,” she said.
Students who support changing the mascot contend that the Pioneer mascot glorifies colonialism, especially compounded with the school’s name. Some have expressed concern that it alienates BIPOC at LC, particularly Indigenous students.
At the end of the dialogues, participants had the option to complete a survey. Yamashita spoke of how facilitators also play a role in passing on community feedback.
“The community dialogues are in charge of getting people talking. We’re reporting it back to (Bixby) and Clara (Daikh, Community Dialogues Program Manager), they’re reporting it to President Sullivan. I feel like I can see that trail. The survey is going to be the big push towards change, it’s really going to be that dataset that they can work off of to make change,” Yamashita said.
Ryan Jurischk ’27, another Community Dialogues facilitator, hosted three dialogues. One was an alumni-only dialogue on the Pioneer mascot.
“I think the most interesting one was the alumni dialogue. It was a wide group of people. I think the youngest was 26 and the oldest was 60,” Jurischk said. “It was a lot of different perspectives, and it was really interesting to see how their reasoning behind (whether or not) to change the mascot was an evolution. Like, ‘I didn’t think it was a problem back then, but we see now that there’s a lot of issues behind the mascot,’ and that’s why they wanted to change it.”
Jurischk spoke about how the three dialogues they participated in created a space for conversation and sharing thoughts. “I feel like everyone was really open-minded when it came to the conversation. They were there for a reason, they wanted to know why people thought the way that they did,” Jurischk said.
Though participants had different opinions, Jurischk felt that the dialogues helped foster open-mindedness.
“In two of my dialogues, we had separation about the topic. At the end of it nobody changed their mind about their views, and that wasn’t the point of the dialogue. But I definitely think they were more open-minded when it came to the other side of the question,” she said.
Friedman offered a timeline for the Mascot Steering Committee’s recommendation to President Robin Holmes-Sullivan.
“The Steering Committee expects to give a recommendation to the President by late Spring. We do hope to share as much as we can with the community in terms of the data that comes out of the survey, but we don’t have a particular date at this time,” she said.
When asked about how the LC community can keep track of the survey’s progress, Friedman highlighted several avenues for communication.
“(Students can keep track) by checking the website, there will be further communication via email and social media,” Friedman said.
Bixby affirmed the Mascot Steering Committee’s commitment to open communication with the LC community.
“As we take steps, we will be sending out new information,” she said.
Friedman encouraged students, faculty and alumni to reach out to the Committee and provide their thoughts on the mascot. There are around 60 members of Community Dialogues, consisting of students and faculty from all three campuses.
The Committee can be reached through their email, email@example.com. In an email, Friedman provided a comment encouraging the LC community to participate in the survey.
CORRECTIONS: Fixed misattributed quote. Corrected Clara (Daikh)’s name from Claire (Dainkh)
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