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Backlash to the Mascot's Removal

After the Indian mascot was removed in 1974, there were several periods in which support for returning the mascot to Dartmouth resurfaced. Support for the Indian symbol and mascot came from alumni, and on campus it was particularly strong among sports teams, conservative students (particularly members of the Dartmouth Review), and members of the freshman class during the fall of 1983, who carried out multiple campaigns for the Indian symbol’s return. Though it appears that, even at the height of student support for the Indian mascot after its removal, the supporting voices were far outnumbered by those who opposed the mascot, the students who wished to return the mascot to campus were particularly vociferous. They created enough campus strife in the early 1980s that the faculty canceled classes for a day in order to hold conversations about racism in the Dartmouth community. These issues exemplify the reality that, although the inclusion of marginalized voices is an important step towards reducing formal inequalities, it does not by itself eradicate the sources of those inequalities. Furthermore, they show that a relatively small number of people who loudly expressed their support for the mascot were able to polarize the campus debate. Overall, this story further highlights the ephemeral nature of equality, making clear that it must continually be pursued in order for it to be maintained.

Dartmouth women dress as Native Americans at hockey game, 1979

All of these articles collectively describe an incident that took place in March of 1979 in which two freshman women, dressed as Native Americans, skated onto the ice rink along with the hockey team at a game. This led to widespread uproar on campus, and, as the second article indicates, it took place amidst a slew of sexist and racist incidents on campus. It even spurred the faculty and administration to institute a one-time “Moratorium Day” during which classes were suspended to facilitate conversations about sexism and racism on campus. The very fact that these girls chose to engage in this display shows that some student voices favored bringing back the Indian symbol and all of its accompanying tropes. However, the fact that the faculty viewed the womens’ actions (and those of others) to be racist suggests that the womens’ opinion was not the primary view on campus. Even so, after the Committee of Standards advocated the two women be suspended, President Kemeny pardoned them, indicating that perhaps the strong condemnation of this action did not extend to all levels of the Dartmouth administration.

Pro-Indian Symbol Movement in 1981

In 1981, a senior, Scott Baker put up hundreds of posters around Dartmouth’s campus with the Indian symbol and a single line, declaring  “the college symbol – let’s have it”. Baker explained that he felt that he had been “robbed” of the Indian symbol, while the President of Native Americans at Dartmouth, Tracy Wolfe, countered that the symbol was “racist” and “stereotyping of an Indian.” 

Poll Showing Student Support for Indian Mascot Remained Low, 1981

In 1981, a poll taken at registration showed that 73% of responding students did not wish to see the Indian symbol return to Dartmouth. This is important in that it shows that, by and large, those who called for the symbol’s return were part of a small, but very vocal, minority. This is not meant to diminish the harm that these students wrought, but rather to instead show that their views were not uniform across campus. However, it is important to note that, while the majority of campus appears to have rejected the return of the Indian symbol, by and large, the rest of Dartmouth’s student body did not fight alongside Native American students as they rebutted the claims of the small proportion of students that did champion the Indian symbol. 


Freshman class in 1983 described "confusion" at the Dartmouth community's rejection of the Indian symbol

This article from 1983 shows the extent to which the Indian symbol became a dividing issue on campus, and it also shows a freshman perspective that they were largely “confused” about the Indian symbol because they had been told during “Freshman week” to “adopt the Dartmouth tradition” of the Indian symbol. During their orientation, freshmen had received information from the Dartmouth Review and other sources that explained that the Indian symbol should be welcomed to campus, they learned the “Wah-Hoo-Wah” cheer at the first football game, and they watched “fratmen” return to campus with “their Indian jackets.” As a consequence, according to these students, they were surprised when other students were appalled at their behavior in support of the symbol. 

Freshman students in the fall of 1983 displayed a "Dartmouth Indians" banner at a football game

This article from the fall of 1983 describes a notorious incident where students at a football game displayed a “Dartmouth Indians” banner. The event was allegedly planned by Laura Ingraham ’85 and others, and it was largely executed by the pro-Indian symbol freshman class. The event created an uproar at the College, which indicates that the recovery of the symbol was perhaps not widely accepted, but the very fact that it occurred shows that use of the symbol and the accompanying racism persisted. 


The Indian Symbol Remained Prevalent after the Mascot was Abolished

Though this article was written by Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chairman of the Native American Council Michael Dorris and administrative assistant Grace Newell, it lists some of the students’ racist actions that targeted Native American students in the early 1980s. It describes that students walked around with  “Indian head jackets,” sold and used “Indian head doormats,” wore ties with Indian heads, got tattoos of Indian heads, and yelled “wah-hoo-wah.” It suggests that, although polls and other articles argue that most people on campus were opposed to bringing the Indian symbol back to Dartmouth in an official capacity, the imagery and stereotypes that the symbol entailed still remained strong. 

Dartmouth upperclassmen condemned the freshman class's actions in the fall of 1983

 This article describes the pervasive sense that the freshman class in 1983 (the graduating class of 1987) was strongly in favor of returning the Indian symbol to campus. The author, a Dartmouth senior, condemned the freshman class’s actions as well as the McLaughlin administration’s lackluster and waffling response. According to this author, at least, freshmen cited that they supported bringing the Indian symbol back to Dartmouth because it was the popular thing to do and because it felt rebellious. 

Memo to President McLaughlin describing FIST Incident, 1984

 This letter from the College Counsel to President McLaughlin describes the formation of an informal campus group, “For Indian Symbol (FIST)” that was part of the Dartmouth Review in 1984. Students in the group gave away t-shirts with the Indian symbol and were removed by campus police multiple times because they were not authorized to conduct their business on college property, which prompted a complaint by the organization. The letter shows not only organized student action against the symbol, but also it shows that the college tried to limit their activities.

Letter from Football Team Captains to Student Body, 1984

In 1984, the football team captains wrote a letter to the student body expressing and justifying their support for the Indian symbol. They cited their prediction that the Indian symbol would “inspire the players and unify the student body and alumni” as well as their personal belief that the Indian symbol was a “tribute” to Native Americans. They also noted a broad perception that President McLaughlin would be more accepting of pro-symbol stances than previous leadership had been.

Shawmut Bank Debates, 1994

These articles describe the struggles of the Shawmut Bank to decide whether to bring a bank branch to Hanover and, if so, whether to use its Indian symbol on its signage. These articles illustrate that, by 1994 at least, Dartmouth students’ opinion as a whole was generally considered to be against the Indian symbol, even to the point that it affected external organizations’ decisions in the Upper Valley.