During the Feb. 13 Faculty Senate meeting, Robert Benge, dean of the School of Health and Kinesiology, asked senators to delay a vote on Student Association’s (SA) proposed bear mascot so he and his employees could submit written feedback, according to a previous Accent article. Benge and Judy Sloane, a professor at the school, wrote a letter detailing their department’s stance against the creation of a mascot for Southern Adventist University.
They submitted the letter to Bob Young, vice president for Academic Administration, who told the Accent that the letter was shared with the President’s Cabinet, deans and chairs and vice presidents.
Rachel Williams-Smith, dean of the School of Journalism and Communication, said the deans and chairs heard Benge’s concerns during a meeting, but, based on her recollection, no one gave any comments in response.
In an interview with the Accent, Benge described the School of Health and Kinesiology’s standpoint. He clarified that the school has never considered the duck to be its official mascot, nor did the thought of the bear replacing the duck cross his or his employees’ minds while voicing their opinions. The duck has nothing to do with the school’s stance against the proposed bear mascot, he said.
The letter he and Sloane wrote contained three points, Benge said. First, of the nine full-time faculty in the School of Health and Kinesiology, not one approves of the mascot. Second, the implementation of a mascot does not make sense for Southern’s campus.
“Mascots are associated with interscholastic sports teams,” Benge said. “We don’t play interscholastic sports here, so we didn’t see the relevance of it.”
Third, the faculty do not believe a mascot properly conveys their perception of the school.
“We consider the School of Health and Kinesiology an academic school, a school of science: exercise science, human performance, health and wellness,” Benge said. “We like the columns brand because it signifies … we’re about academia.”
Isaac James, director of Marketing and University Relations, wrote in an email to the Accent that he is not knowledgeable of SA’s specific plans regarding a bear logo, but the official columns logo is not going away.
“I can share that the university logo remains the official way Southern is identified to audiences, and there are no plans from my office to change that,” he wrote.
Although Benge is aware that SA is not promoting interscholastic sports by proposing a mascot — as stated by Kenneth Bautista, senior management major and SA president, to the Accent and Faculty Senate — he called the mascot an “insidious” way for future SA leadership to introduce competition against other schools.
Benge further explained the faculty’s view on interscholastic sports. If Southern created sports teams to play other schools, that program would inevitably take resources away from intramurals. The faculty has worked hard to establish a culture promoting physical activity on campus, Benge said, and the school has seen noticeable results.
BestColleges.com ranked Southern in its top 20 colleges with the best intramural sports programs in 2013. The National Collegiate Fitness Index ranked Southern number one in the private university category in a national study of collegiate fitness in 2016. Articles on both accomplishments can be seen on the wall in the Hulsey Wellness Center.
Faculty in the School of Health and Kinesiology fear losing this culture to interscholastic sports, Benge said. He added that there are ethical dilemmas that arise from competing against other schools.
Benge met with the Senate Mascot Committee, which consists of Bautista, junior biology major Wilson Hannawi and junior accounting major Anna Mihaescu, last month to discuss SA’s mascot proposal. Benge said he will not fight the mascot if it is approved.
“I wouldn’t turn ugly against the SA in any way, shape or form,” he said. “You know, I hope we can agree to disagree and then still be civil to each other. And, you know, as far as I’m concerned, now it’s in the hands of administration or the board, whatever they decide. You’ll never hear me speak. If it goes in Kenneth’s favor and the SA’s favor, I’m not gonna fight it or be negative.”
Bautista confirmed that this is exactly what Benge communicated to the committee last month and added that SA and the School of Health and Kinesiology enjoy working together. Benge also expressed this sentiment and is thankful for SA’s funding for an outdoor basketball court during COVID-19 and upcoming Hall of Fame plaques. He conceded that SA’s mascot proposal was done well.
“They made a compelling presentation as to why we should have a mascot,” Benge said. “I’ll tip my hat to them that way.”
Bautista reiterated to the Accent that SA currently has no intention of using the bear mascot to introduce interscholastic sports, and he added that even if future leadership were to try, the decision to play other schools ultimately rests in the hands of administration.
Bautista is not certain of if the bear mascot will be officially approved or disapproved. Young referred the Accent to President Ken Shaw regarding questions about who will officially approve the mascot. Shaw was out of the office when the Accent reached out on Monday.
However, Bautista believes the Senate Mascot Committee is done presenting the bear to bodies of authority on campus. He last presented the idea to the Board of Trustees on Feb. 26 and was met with a completely positive reaction, he said.
To students who are feeling apprehensive about the bear mascot, Bautista echoed a statement he said Shaw made at the Feb. 13 Faculty Senate meeting: “We can’t reject something we don’t see.”
“Wait a little bit,” Bautista added. “See how it is if it comes, and make your judgments then.”
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