After a reportedly intense debate, the San Diego State University Council voted 14-12 against phasing out the school’s “Aztecs” mascot.
The Native American Student Alliance at the university had asked for a change, because they said the name—particularly the mascot—was degrading and offensive.
The resolution was based on a thesis by American Indian Studies Professor Ozzie Monge, who wrote that the Aztec name was inappropriate because, among other reasons, it was chosen on the inaccurate historical assumption that the Aztecs once were in the Southwest United States.
Monge said another resolution could be brought to the Associated Students next year. Wednesday’s vote was much closer than when student leaders last voted on the issue in 2014, when a similar resolution failed 24-1.
Speakers appearing before the council Wednesday included SDSU Chicana and Chicano Studies Professor Victoria Gonzalez Rivera, who said it was indefensible to use indigenous people as mascots.
“We rarely have an opportunity to be on the right side of history, and that’s what we have today,” she said, asking the council to support the resolution.
The reasons for disagreement with the resolution ranged from “political correctness” to financial concerns. Athletic director Steve Schnall had a fairly suspect take on the resolution, saying the school honors the Aztecs, because players don’t step on the logo in the locker room:
“The Aztecs were a proud people,” he said, describing the mascot’s spear as symbolic of power and his shield symbolic of defense and protection.
“In our strength and conditioning room, the Aztec logo is considered sacred,” he said of the design on the floor. “Students walk around it.”
Native American names and mascots have been phased out of college sports over the years. The NCAA forced the University of North Dakota to change its name from the Fighting Sioux, while the University of Illinois was allowed to keep its Fighting Illini name, but had to get rid of mascot Chief Illiniwek. The Florida State Seminoles were allowed to keep their name and mascot because of an agreement with the Seminole tribe.
San Diego State’s situation is a bit different because the Aztec were never an American tribe, having lived in central Mexico. Moreover, they were an ancient empire unlike any American Indian tribe, and there is no current Aztec group like the organizations that make up today’s Native American tribes.
So for now, without pressure from the NCAA and without a majority consensus from the student government, the name and logo remain.