In 2011, Brigham Young University joined the West Coast Conference, meaning their basketball team would head to Spokane, Washington once a year to face off against Gonzaga University. And since then, when the BYU men’s basketball team has gone to Spokane, BYU players have been greeted by a Gonzaga student section littered with students mocking Mormons.
Some held signs with Mormon-related puns. Others wore short-sleeved button down shirts with ties, the standard “uniform” of Mormon missionaries. Regardless of how it was done, it was done. And it made some people at Gonzaga, a Jesuit institution, very uncomfortable.
With the BYU-Gonzaga game in Spokane scheduled for February 3, the Gonzaga Bulletin reported that members of the athletic department, student development, the general counsel’s office, and others met on January 26 to discuss exactly how they should discourage students, especially those in Gonzaga’s student group, the Kennel Club, from mocking Mormons at the game. They even have the support of the Kennel Club Board and its president, Claire Murphy, who wrote a supportive letter that was read at the meeting.
“The missionary costumes and posters that degrade the Mormon faith that show up in The Kennel every time we face the Cougars makes my stomach twist into knots,” Murphy said in her letter. “We are a Jesuit institution that stands to ‘foster a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity’ and ‘cultivates in its students the capacities and dispositions for… ethical discernment, creativity, and innovation.’ How are we living up to this mission if we are tearing down the spiritual identity of others?”
The mocking of Mormons has been an ongoing concern ever since BYU joined the WCC. In 2012, a student group called “Take the Hate Out of Hoops” tried to tone down the disparaging remarks and actions toward Mormons. Letters to the editor of the Gonzaga Bulletin expressing concern over the Mormon costumes and signs have been published for several years.
So after seven years, why is this happening now? Colleen Vanderboom, Assistant Dean of Student Involvement and Leadership, told the Gonzaga Bulletin that she credits Gonzaga basketball player Jesse Wade with inspiring the move toward concrete action. Wade is a member of the LDS Church, and took two years off before joining the team to go on his LDS mission.
“When we learned that [Wade] had been recruited to come here, we had to be legit,” Vanderboom said. “Like OK, we have been talking about it enough and now, not only is it embarrassing, but it’s like, really? He’s one of our community members.”
The Kennel Club will be sending out an email to its members to discourage them from mocking Mormons at the BYU game. Neither the school or the Kennel Club can force students to stop, but they can try to convince them that making fun of a school for their religious beliefs is both terrible and disrespectful. Maybe 2018 will be the year that most, if not all Gonzaga students in the Kennel Club leave their short-sleeved button downs and Mormon pun signs at home.
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