SFU will no longer call its varsity athletics teams the Clan

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      For more than 50 years, SFU athletes have been playing for teams called the Clan.

      But that changed today when the university announced that the name has been "retired".

      President Andrew Petter made the decision after receiving a report commissioned by SFU's athletics and recreation department showing that student athletes, coaches, and associated staff wanted a change.

      "I think this process we've gone through in the last year now since the students first voiced very strong views in favour of a name change has really been helpful," Petter told the Straight by phone. "I've talked in the last while to a large number of alumni and others associated within the university, as well as people within, and I think there are some people who think that this is the right decision to make. A large number. The majority I would say. And there are others who say, 'Well, it's a difficult decision and I understand why you're making it. And I support you in doing so.' "

      The Clan name reflected the university's Scottish traditions, which are also represented in the SFU Pipe Band and the namesake, Scottish explorer Simon Fraser.

      "There's some sadness in giving up a name that has meant a lot, that has no inherent problem with it," Petter said. "The problem comes from the unfortunate fact that the word, when pronounced south of the border, invokes one image. And that image unfortunately is that of a racist organization. And that has caused serious stress and psychological harm, at least, for our student athletes.

      "We just can't ignore that," the president continued. "That has to be the primary consideration and we want a name that our students will feel proud competing under, as those who completed under the Clan have done for the most part in the past."

      A nonscientific survey on Straight.com showed that 60 percent of respondents favoured changing the name, with 40 percent opposed.

      A petition on Change.org demanding a name change attracted nearly 14,000 signatures before the organizers could finally declare victory. While the petition acknowledged that the name was inspired by Scottish heritage, it also noted that the name "Clansman" has a racist history in North America.

      "To further explain, the first blockbuster Hollywood movie hit to come out was called 'The Birth of a Nation. This movie sparked the rebirth of the KKK and lynching activity in the USA after it was premiered," the petition states. "The movie was made from the book called 'The Clansman' which has the same narrative involving the KKK."

      It stated that retaining the name shows "the lack of acknowledgement to Black History in America and Canada and therefore lacking support to Black and Colored communities or members of SFU".

      Former SFU basketball guard Othniel Spence helped turn public opinion with an article entitled "I Am Not Your Clansman", which appeared on Parkjournal.com. 

      For his part, Petter said the stakeholder engagement process indicated "strong support within the university community" for the name change, as well as "majority support within the alumni community".


      On September 1, Petter's second term will expire as SFU's president and he'll be replaced by Joy Johnson, who will likely announce the new name for SFU varsity sports teams when its chosen.

      So was this Petter's final decision as president? 

      "I don't want to tempt fate by predicting that," he replied with a laugh.