A Missionary’s Position On Whitman College Mascot Debate
“Missionaries, missionaries, we’re on top!”
That’s a chant the kids yell at sporting events at Whitman College, a liberal arts school in Walla Walla, where the mascot is the Fighting Missionary.
The Whitman debate team has also enjoyed turning its mascot into a crude double entendre:
“The missionary position on today’s debate is …”
But the Fighting Missionary Whitman alum have been asked to fill out a survey about their mascot – and if they’d like a new one.
John Moe, a former KUOW host and an alum of Whitman class of 1990, said he would vote to nix the Missionary mascot for several reasons.
“The missionaries the school is named after – Dr. Marcus Whitman and Narcissa Whitman – were slaughtered,” Moe said. “So when you’re trying to go into a metaphorical battle in sports, and you’re carrying the flag of the people who were famously completely wiped out all at once – it probably doesn’t lead to a lot of athletic achievement.”
According to the college’s website, The Whitmans’ “mission was to teach the Indians the gospel in the Presbyterian fashion and teach them the ‘arts of civilization.’”
In 1847, measles broke out and decimated the Indians, the school’s biography continues.
“Dr. Whitman treated both Indians and white settlers, and when so many Indians died despite treatment, Indian custom dictated revenge upon the medicine man. Thus the Whitmans were massacred, as well-meaning as they had been.”
PBS offered a slightly less generous account of the Whitmans:
To the Cayuse, whose souls the Whitmans felt they were destined to "save," the mission was at first a strange sight, and soon a threatening one. The Whitmans made little effort to offer their religious message in terms familiar to the Cayuse, or to accommodate themselves even partially to Cayuse religious practices. Gift-giving was essential to Cayuse social and political life, yet the Whitmans saw the practice as a form of extortion. For the Cayuse, religion and domestic life were closely entwined, yet Narcissa reacted with scorn when they suggested a worship service within the Whitman household. Even a sympathetic biographer admits that "her attitude toward those among whom she lived came to verge on outright repugnance."
Moe said this complicated past is one reason the Missionary mascot should be replaced.
“For one thing it kind of portrays the school as being a religious school, and it's not,” he said. “It’s secular; it's been secular for a very, very long time.”
And two, he said, “There is a lot of complexity to do missionary work, and even more complexity probably to 19th century missionary work in the still unsettled West.”
Moe suggested the Sommeliers as an alternative, as a nod to the vineyards and wineries popping up in Eastern Washington, or the sweet onions, in homage to the region’s agricultural history.