New study finds offensive mascots reduce students’ sense of belonging, donations

A new study suggests that university mascots deemed offensive by students can negatively impact donations and the student experience.

Researchers at Yale University found that repeated exposure to Native American mascots and other mascots perceived by many as offensive can reduce students’ sense of belonging at a university, Inside Higher Ed reported Thursday. The study – published earlier this month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology – highlights that feelings of isolation have a larger impact on students of color.

“I think you could think of a mascot as sending a signal about what this place is going to be like and whether it’s going to be welcoming and whom it’s going to be welcoming to,” said Michael Kraus, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale, in a press release.

An unnamed Midwestern university, which Inside Higher Ed identified as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was the subject of study. Researchers found the school’s unofficial mascot, the Chief, emblazoned on 50 percent of campus spaces and 10 percent of students’ clothing and noted a correlation between higher levels of prejudice toward Native Americans and an increased sense of belonging on campus.

Kraus said the presence of offensive mascots on campus shows students that officials value the stereotype or caricature more than its students.

“When you don’t replace the mascot, what other imagery do you have to show your school spirit or link up to sporting events?” he said in a press release. “Then it takes on a normative place in the community.”

The study’s authors also found that individuals are 5.5 percent less likely to donate to universities with offensive mascots. Study participants were asked to divide a sum of money between several universities, some of which had potentially offensive mascots.

The study comes amid controversy at GW over removing and replacing the Colonials nickname, which some students and faculty have found offensive, citing the term’s association with imperialism and white supremacy.

A narrow majority of students, 54 percent, voted to change the nickname in a referendum held in March after a group of students launched a petition to remove the moniker. Officials have not taken an official stance on the issue.

Conservative student organizations like GW’s chapter of Young America’s Foundation and GW College Republicans urged students to vote against changing the moniker before the election and continue to oppose the change.

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