Whatever the proximate cause for the Holy Cross community’s Crusader debate, it is possible (and to be hoped) that students and faculty will have a meaningful debate.
More than half a century ago, when editors at the student newspaper at Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross decided to change the name of their publication from The Tomahawk to The Crusader, it must have seemed a safe enough move.
But college campuses back in 1955 were nothing like college campuses in 2017, where almost any word or action, no matter how innocuous, can cause an individual or group to take offense, launch a protest, or issue a cry for discussions regarding diversity and respect.
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It is hardly surprising that faculty and students at Holy Cross have decided to discuss the name of their newspaper. The crusader is, after all, an unmistakably Christian image that belongs to a particularly sanguinary period of world history, the 175 or so years from 1095 to 1272, when Christian kings and nobles in Europe organized military campaigns to wrest back control of the Holy Land from Muslim conquerors.
Perhaps only divine protection can explain how an image so historically burdened has managed to survive this long. Imagine the microaggressions Holy Cross students have suffered during these last six decades.
If only their consciousness had been raised years ago!
Well, take heart, for 48 Holy Cross faculty members recently wrote to The Crusader to point out what was on no one’s mind until then — that the paper shares a name with a publication of the Ku Klux Klan.
The linguistic coincidence seems to me the least important fact here, but now that the issue is public, Holy Cross will be having meetings, lectures and discussions about the appropriateness of The Crusader for a student newspaper title.
Well, perhaps some good may come of this linguistic coincidence.
Consider, for example, “Min Kamp,” the original Norwegian title of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s best-selling six-volume autobiographical novel “My Struggle.”
Knausgaard’s publisher initially blocked use of that title because it so clearly echoed Adolf Hitler’s infamous “Mein Kampf.” But Knausgaard, as detailed in this New Yorker interview, made his title choice deliberately and thoughtfully, and has defended himself against his critics.
As The New Yorker’s Evan Hughes writes: “Knausgaard counters that the real danger lies in deceiving ourselves that Hitler is some unreal monster that no man could ever match.”
In a similar way, whatever the proximate cause for the Holy Cross community’s Crusader debate, it is possible (and to be hoped) that students and faculty will have a meaningful debate.
Early on, someone is sure to state the obvious: If The Crusader isn’t appropriate for a newspaper, why would it be appropriate to call the school’s sports teams Crusaders?
This is likely to be quickly followed by an existential question: If you exorcise Crusaders from the College of the Holy Cross, what is left?
Would banishing the Crusader name and imagery from printing presses, websites and playing fields on Mount Saint James undermine the school’s identity as a Roman Catholic, and specifically Jesuit, institution? Would the holy cross itself, figuratively speaking, begin to totter?
Probably not. A linguistic debate, however spirited, is unlikely to sink the College of the Holy Cross, and whatever decision emerges will not fundamentally alter the school’s purpose, mission and character.
But Holy Cross isn’t out of danger quite yet.
For while it took 62 years to reach this point in the debate over the name The Crusader, future debates are likely to come much more quickly. Ours is an age of hyperlinks and hypersensitivity, and in academia self-appointed Language and Thought Police abound.
That is not to say that Holy Cross should defend its Crusader unto a gory death on some distant legal battlefield. But if a change is made, it should be for clear and persuasive reasons, and the paper’s editors and the Holy Cross community should be prepared to defend the change, because even the slightest false note will inevitably cause someone to launch another crusade on another topic soon enough.
This onetime newspaper editor would defend the name and symbol Crusader as an ongoing invitation to explore the complex religious heritage of Christianity and its still evolving relationship to Islam. Bury the symbol, and that conversation is harder to have.
Holy Cross should certainly broaden the understanding of the crusader imagery for a modern audience. But it would be a mistake to abandon it.
For if the Holy Cross community is no longer comfortable as crusaders on behalf of a specifically Catholic vision and understanding of the world, an intellectual holy land will truly have been lost forever.
Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.