The Mascot of Swat

Swarthmore College ("Swat" for short), my alma mater, has never had a mascot.

Ten years ago, some then-current students decided that the school needed a mascot. There was a vote, in which "no mascot" won. So there was another vote, and "no mascot" won again (against such candidates as the "Little Quaker" and the "Garnet Fox"). I think that "no mascot" won as a write-in on one of those ballots, but the details are hazy at this point, and the relevant college bulletin issue doesn't give details on the two rounds. It does, however, make clear that on the final ballot, 58% of the 1500 alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff who voted voted for "no mascot." Including 77% of the then-current students who voted.

Fast-forward to 2006, when a group of current students once again decided that the school needed a mascot. They put together a petition requesting that the school pick a mascot (which apparently some students may have signed under the mistaken belief that it was suggesting a vote on whether to have a mascot or not), and then they put together a ballot, and then they offered the ballot in online form to the current student population. After receiving some complaints over the lack of a "no mascot" option on the ballot, they changed the ballot to have a "no mascot" option, deleted all the votes so far, and started over.

That vote is now over, but the results have not yet been released. In the meantime, there's now an online ballot for alums to vote. This was announced via an electronic newsletter that many alums (including me) don't subscribe to, and many probably don't even know about. The vote will last only one week, so any alums who aren't online or don't happen to hear about it during the next week are apparently out of luck.

So the main reason I'm posting this is to let interested Swat alums know that if you want to vote on whether Swat should have a mascot and, if so, what it should be, you should go to the news page and click the "Alumni Vote Here" link. To vote, you'll need your 7-digit (?) ID number, the one that's on the mailing labels of mail from the college and appears at the top of the E-News mailings.

But I also think the whole question is kind of an interesting one. I confess that I don't really know what it would mean for the college to have a mascot--for example, I've been thinking of it as basically a sports-team thing, which gave me a gut negative reaction to it, but I no longer particularly feel that the college shouldn't emphasize sports. And Comma recently posted an interesting LJ entry about school spirit that resonated with me, but led me to a different conclusion than his: it occurred to me that I'm having a gut negative reaction to the word "mascot," and that if, instead, I were to think of it as a "totem animal" (as Comma puts it), I wouldn't be so opposed to the idea.

Also, the choices on the ballot this time around are a little more interesting: Manticore, Gorilla, Griffin, and Phoenix. I have no interest in a manticore or gorilla representing my alma mater ("Manticore" is apparently the name of a popular current student band, which is about the worst rationale for a choice of mascot I've heard yet), but I'm tickled that three of the four are mythological creatures; almost makes me wonder if this was an intentional courting of the science fiction/fantasy/Harry Potter fan vote. And actually, I kind of like the Phoenix idea, especially since the school newspaper has been named the Phoenix for a long time, apparently as a reference to the time in 1881 when Parrish Hall, the main building on campus, burned down and was rebuilt. It's a creature that's butch enough for a sports team but femme enough for the school's Quaker heritage.

(Unfortunately, the plan is apparently to use the school's official color, Garnet, as part of the name. "The Garnet Phoenix" sounds awful to me. But I imagine that might be negotiable.)

So, rather to my surprise, I'm not certain how I'm going to vote. I still think the whole process has been handled badly, but for the first time I can imagine not being annoyed at an outcome other than "no mascot" winning.

Amusing aside: the choice of Phoenix would add even more to the similarities between the University of Chicago and Swarthmore. The school colors are already similar (maroon vs garnet), and Chicago's mascot is already a phoenix. . . .

P.S.: I was tempted to try to write a full poem-filk of "The Akond of Swat," but decided that the title was enough. Well, okay, and the first couplet is obvious: "Who, or why, or which, or what / is the mascot of Swat?"

6 Responses to “The Mascot of Swat”

  1. Tom Galloway

    I’d be amused if one of the mascot choices were the Sultans or even the non-PC Babes. Based on the association chain of Swarthmore -> Swat -> Sultan of Swat -> Babe Ruth

  2. heather w

    I’m on the enews list, but the text of the message didn’t indicate that “none” was one of the voting options, so I didn’t bother to vote until I read your entry.

    Reed (where I work now) uses a griffin in some of its official and unofficial iconography, although I don’t think it’s ever referred to as a mascot.

  3. Eliza

    Speaking as a current student, a lot of people here are more than annoyed at the process.

    1) As you said, some people mistakenly signed the petition as an acknowledgement that a vote should be held, rather than any inclination to actually pick a mascot.

    2) The four candidates were chosen by an _unelected sports committee_ from a pool of 40-60 suggestions. How did Manticore make it to the Final Four? The fact that some band members are friends with some committee members couldn’t _possibly_ have had anything to do with it…>.> Instead of helping to winnow down the dozens of suggestions, we were handed four seemingly random candidates, and the non-stupid half of them are already in wide use by other schools.

    3) The official story on the fact that they had to throw out the first day’s worth of votes is that a “computer glitch” caused the votes to not be recorded. I don’t know how they expected us to swallow that whopper. They didn’t change the ballot until they’d received many, many complaints from angry students.

    4) So I’m not really surprised that they haven’t gotten around to announcing the process to all the alumni, because, horror of horrors, the alumni might vote for “no mascot” just like they did ten years ago. This whole process has been rather underhanded from the start, designed at every turn to force us to pick something instead of choosing to remain in mascot-less limbo. If there is going to be a guy in a manticore suit wandering around the sidelines during sports games, I’m sure that attendance will drop through sheer embarrassment.

    Anyway, you can probably tell how I voted.

  4. AndyHat

    Huh. I went to the University of Chicago, and I had no idea that we even had a mascot, much less that it was a phoenix, but apparently you’re right. But then, like most UofC students, I never attended athletic events unless there was free pizza, and didn’t stick around any longer than it took to eat.

  5. David Moles

    “Attack of the Garnet Monster” isn’t really a mascot, but it should be.

  6. Jed

    A few further notes on this issue, with info from emails from one of the students involved in the process and from the director of alumni relations:

    1. There won’t be a paper ballot. Alums who don’t have email or who don’t hear about this during the one-week voting period (which ends tomorrow!) are just out of luck.

    2. “Garnet” won’t be part of the name of the mascot. The article was wrong on that point.

    3. You can only vote for one item, even though the badly designed web form provides checkboxes rather than radio buttons. The people in charge declined to provide a note about this on the voting page, despite my asking them to do so.

    I was pretty evenly balanced between voting for Phoenix and voting for “no mascot” for a while. But my annoyance with just about every aspect of the process finally led me to vote for “no mascot.” Unlike several of the alums and current students I’ve heard from, I don’t think that most of the flaws in the process were due to intentional deception on the part of the people involved, and any one of the flaws wouldn’t have been enough to get me to vote no on principle. But the combination of all of the flaws adds up to me being unwilling to support the process.


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