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Siena College Drops Indian, Goes Without Nickname

December 17, 1988 GMT

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ The Regular Joes? The Harlequins?

If they seem like bad suggestions for the Siena basketball team’s new nickname, consider the problems of being the only NCAA team without one.

A masked leprechaun chanting to the beat of tribal war drums and sportscasters referring to the ″Siena No-Names″ are part of the fallout from Siena’s decision to drop their Indian nickname this year.

At Siena’s home-opener against Marist last week, the team’s new ″temporary″ leprechaun mascot incited the crowd as a cheering section beat out the same drum rhythm the school’s Indian mascot had danced to for decades. That night, the school’s forsaken Indian head-dress symbol still hung at one end of the court.

Old habits die hard, it seems.

After 40 years of being Indians, this private college in suburban Albany has dropped its traditional nickname, fearing that the image it conveys of Native Americans may be offensive.

So, this year the former Siena Indians will play as the Team With No Name.

Siena’s Indian mascot has been ″temporarily″ replaced with a leprechaun dressed in the school colors - green and gold - and the ″Tee Pee Rowdies″ basketball cheering section is now just the plain-old ″Rowdies.″

″With the Indian nickname, you’re taking various tribes and cultures and lumping them all together,″ explained faculty member Jim Dalton, who spearheaded the decision as chair of Siena’s minority task force project. ″It’s oversimplifying Indian culture ... the name is culturally demeaning.″

Raymond Boisvert, a professor of philosophy at Siena, explained it this way in the school newspaper:

″Imagine ... instead of the Siena Indians, we are called the Siena Italians. At basketball games, the loudest cheering comes from ... the Cosa Nostra Rowdies, some of whom come dressed as Chicago-era mafiosa. Down on the floor, leading the cheers and circling the gym is an Al Capone type.″

Siena’s action is not unique. In the early 1970s, both Dartmouth and Stanford dropped their Indian monikers for the less offensive Big Green and Cardinal, respectively.

The NCAA currently lists five college teams nicknamed Indians - along with assorted other Chiefs, Redmen and numerous tribal names.

In related incidents, both the Syracuse Orangemen and the Redmen of St. John’s dumped their Indian warrior mascots recently after pressure from Native American groups. This season, St. John’s introduced a red tuxedo-clad mascot known as the ″Red Man.″ Syracuse’s new non-offensive sideline mascot is a student dressed as a giant orange.

What is unique about Siena’s situation is the decision to go a school year without a nickname.

″We’ll get a new nickname at the end of the second semester,″ said John D’Argenio, the school’s sports information director. ″Right now, we’re taking a year to get a list of viable options.″

To narrow down those options, D’Argenio will preside over a committee of faculty, students, and alumni who will sift through hundreds of suggestions. After they are compiled, the committee will choose a dozen or so of the best ideas to present to Siena’s president, Father Hugh Hines, who will make the final decision.

″It will be a long committee meeting,″ D’Argenio said.

Some names Hines will likely have to pick from are: Warriors, Capitals, Green Tide, Eagles, Green, Gold, and Friars - which refers to the religious order that founded Siena 50 years ago.

Some current suggestions less likely to make it to Hines’ desk include: Canaleers, Gummi Bears, Knickerbockers, Runnin’ Revs, and Fryers.

One suggestion that will certainly not be welcome on Hines’ desk is an old favorite - Indians.

″Changing the name treats Indians as if they don’t exist,″ said Jack Mulvey, a Siena class of ’68 Hall of Famer.

″They’re trying to wipe out a tradition with a stroke of a pen,″ he said. ″Instead of getting rid of a tradition, they should have done something in a more positive vein ... like having a yearly seminar on the American Indian.″

Mulvey said there is a large group of alumni and students who are unhappy with the school’s decision. It was made in the summer when no one was around to consult with or disapprove, he said.

″Everyone’s going to go along with the decision because we all care about the school so much, but if people were to tell you what they honestly thought (of the name change), it would boggle your mind,″ said Gary Hollie, a former Siena All-American from 1977.

Students asked about the name change generally gave responses ranging from unenthusiastic approval to unenthusiastic disapproval.

″I was never offended by the name. But then again, I was never an Indian,″ said Kathy Hines, who, like a lot of her fellow students, seemed to treat the matter with a mix of amusement and apathy.

Basketball coach Mike Deane said the nickname will have no effect on his team’s play this year, and his players, by and large, seem just as philosophical.

″It’s the team that wins the game, not the name.″ said Marc Brown, a sophomore guard. ″I just hope they don’t come up with something outrageous.″

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