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Valparaiso U. Drops Crusader as Mascot, Citing Ties to Hate Groups

The private university in Indiana, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, said the Crusader name could be associated with “aggressive religious oppression and violence.”

Valparaiso University, which is known for one of the biggest upsets in the history of the N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball tournament by a mid-major athletic program, announced on Thursday that it was dropping the Crusader as its mascot because of its association with hate groups and violence.

In a video posted on Facebook by the private university, which is in Indiana and is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, the university’s interim president and the student body president said that the Crusader mascot had developed a negative connotation and that it no longer reflected the institution’s values.

The university, whose name is frequently shortened to Valpo, adopted the Crusader as its mascot in 1942, a nod to the Christian conquests of the Holy Land from the 11th century to the 13th century that pitted European invaders against Muslims. The mascot costume features a suit of armor, a helmet and a shield.

A new mascot has yet to be announced by the university, which became the latest notable entry on a list of professional sports franchises and collegiate athletic programs — led by the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball and the N.F.L.’s Washington football team — that have abandoned their team names amid a nationwide reckoning over such symbols.

Colette Irwin-Knott, the university’s interim president, said in the video that the Crusader mascot had been under scrutiny during the past few decades, “as it can be associated with aggressive religious oppression and violence.”

“Unfortunately, the Crusader and its symbols related to the Crusades have been embraced and displayed by hate groups,” Ms. Irwin-Knott said. “In fact, a newspaper of the K.K.K. carries the name The Crusader, and this is not something we want to be connected with Valparaiso University in any way.”

During last month’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol, white supremacists brought with them their variant of the Crusader cross, which has become popular among the racist and anti-Semitic fringes. It was not immediately clear if that element of the attack had contributed to the university’s decision to retire the Crusader as its mascot.

Ms. Irwin-Knott said a task force of university stakeholders she convened during the fall semester had recommended the change, along with the Faculty Senate and the Student Senate.

Kaitlyn Steinhiser, the student body president, said in the video that many students had been eager to see the Crusader retired.

“Mascots are intended to help us show our school spirit and represent Valpo values, rather than be divisive and symbolize negativity,” Ms. Steinhiser said. “There has been a growing concern from students on campus about how the current Crusader mascot represents us, as well as how it may impact prospective students’ views of our university.”

Valparaiso is not the first higher learning institution to grapple with a Crusader mascot.

In 2000, Wheaton College in Illinois ditched the Crusader as its mascot. But the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., decided after a review in 2018 to stick with the name Crusaders. At the time, Holy Cross’s president said the college’s definition of Crusader was based on a “contemporary understanding of the term, which suggests a noble effort to support a cause, to right a wrong or to make a difference.”

Valparaiso’s most triumphant sporting moment came in the opening round of the 1998 N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament when the Crusaders, a No. 13 seed, stunned Mississippi, a No. 4 seed, at the final buzzer on a 3-pointer by Bryce Drew. It became known as the Shot.

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