From the Detroit News comes “Hurons logo, harassment prompt meeting at EMU.” Here’s the opening paragraphs:
U.S. Justice Department officials came to Eastern Michigan University this week to meet with president Susan Martin and a Native American campus group to discuss concerns over the continued use of the school’s Hurons logo after students allegedly harassed a Native American elder in April.
At the meeting Tuesday, Martin refused to remove the logo after being asked to by the EMU Native American Student Organization, according to Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for racial justice for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Fancher attended the meeting at the request of the student group.
Martin returned the Hurons logo, which depicts a Native American face with paint and feathers, to the EMU Marching Band uniform in 2012 to promote what she calls the university’s history and pride. It is hidden under a front flap.
“She takes the position the logo was retired. Its presence under the flap does not equate its return,” Fancher said. “Martin says it’s a part of the university’s history. My response to that is yes — it’s a disgraceful part of the history. It is causing harm to the students. It needs to go.”
The article goes on to recount the recent incident where students were dressed up as mock Indians and they yelled at and threw a beer at Ypsi local Nathaniel Phillips, who is Native American and who is always described in these articles as a “Elder.”
I don’t think it was a good idea to put EMU’s past logos– including this one– under a hidden flap on the band uniforms, and I also am pretty certain that there is no cause and effect relationship between these uniforms and these drunken college kids yelling “We’re fucking Hurons!” at this Native American man who happened to be walking around Ypsilanti one night. Rather, I think the cause of that unfortunate incident was the combination of the fact that EMU once was “The Hurons,” Phillips is himself Native American, and those dumb kids had too much beer.
And I suspect that the powers that be at EMU were attempting a PR move that would have satisfied the “once a Huron, always a Huron” alumni, and now it’s coming back to bite them. I am almost certain my colleagues in the EMU communications office are wishing they had a “do-over” on that one.
But on a slightly different note: I have to say that as a professor who studies and teaches about rhetoric, I am pretty fascinated about the power of this hidden symbol. Remember: this logo is on the uniform but out of sight. Members of the band would know it’s there of course because they’re putting on the uniforms, but if the fact that it was there had not be publicized, we would never know that it was there.
So symbols– even the idea of a symbol, not even its actual manifestation of its presence to an audience– are incredibly powerful, and not merely as a metaphor. They are powerful enough to cause a meeting between the DOJ, the ACLU, EMU officials and lawyers, and student groups. That group of people certainly spent some time debating the removal of an image that few people can actually see. That’s pretty fascinating to me.