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SFU dropping ‘Clan’ varsity team name, effective immediately

Simon Fraser University (SFU) is dropping the name of its varsity athletic teams, effective immediately, after dozens of student athletes and faculty spent years pressuring school executives to make the change.

The Burnaby-based university announced the retirement of the 55-year-old name in a statement Wednesday.

“The primary factor contributing to the decision was the well-being of student athletes, many of whom reported that the current name had caused them to experience unsafe situations, upsetting conversations and other harm,” the statement read.

The school said it will begin the process of choosing a new name this fall, with hopes of announcing the new title before the end of 2020.

Students shouldn’t bear burden of bad name: president

The “Clan” name, shortened from the original “Clansmen,” was intended as a nod to the Scottish heritage of fur trader and explorer Simon Fraser, for whom the university is named. The title has often been misinterpreted as a reference to the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.

“For student athletes and fans, you should be able to represent your school with pride and honour,” Othniel Spence, a former captain of the men’s basketball team, previously told CBC News. “Instead, the emotions that come [from] the name is more of shame and embarrassment.”

Even though the SFU team name was Clan, Spence said, many American athletes and fans heard Klan.

“A team name should be inclusive to everybody, but this team name is more conflicting, especially to student athletes of colour. It’s just exhausting to have that conversation time after time. Or hear snide remarks or hear snide comments.”

SFU President Andrew Petter decided to move forward with the name change based on feedback from student athletes, coaches, staff and the wider community.

“We’ve heard increasingly from student athletes [the name is] a burden,” said Petter. “We have many more Black athletes and athletes of colour, this name is not going to serve them well… we’d like them to have a name that they’d be proud of.”

Old name to be ‘honoured’

Petter said the university will honour the outgoing team name, saying it’s proud of the team’s long history and the university’s Scottish roots. 

“We are very committed to celebrating and hold out positively our Scottish roots, but at the same time we want to be inclusive of other cultures,” said Petter. 

“We have our traditions, but we are a dynamic institution.”

Calls to change the university’s team name date back to at least 2017. The school has competed in the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference against American universities ranging from Alaska to Oregon since 2011.

Like those from SFU, activists around the world have been spending years pushing professional sports leagues, post-secondary institutions and high schools to drop racist, offensive and disrespectful names, logos and mascots. Protests against anti-Black racism, launched in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, drew fresh attention to the issue.

The Edmonton Football Club said last month it would be changing its name decision on Tuesday to discontinue the use of a controversial word in the team’s name. Other teams in the United States are also re-examining team names.

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