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Monday, September 25, 2023

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President Sally Roush's Decisions on Aztec Identity

The final decisions, announced during a special meeting of the University Senate, are to retain the Aztec name and the Aztec Warrior.
By SDSU News Team

Note: In addition to San Diego State University President Sally Roush’s full statement, you can also find information about the Aztec identity decisions, including statements and documents:
SDSU President Sally Roush announced that the university will retain the Aztec name and Aztec Warrior after carefully considering the 2018 Aztec Identity Task Force’s recommendations and the viewpoints of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, and also comments shared with her directly.

Surveys were sent to more than 200,000 constituents with nearly 13,000 responding, in which the majority were supportive of maintaining the Aztec identity.

“One consistent, overarching message was conveyed in a loud and clear voice: Respect, genuinely intended and executed, must be the foundation of our actions going forward,” Roush said at a special May 17 meeting of the University Senate, during which she shared the task force’s recommendations and her decisions.  

She also called for:
  • The creation of a governing body to be chaired by the SDSU president and charged with actively addressing issues related to SDSU’s Aztec identity and the ethical and fiduciary responsibility of carrying the Aztec name. The group will be staffed and supported through ongoing and one-time university funding.
  • The Aztec Culture Education Committee, formed during the 2016-2017 year, will reconvene and be formally institutionalized, with the addition of representatives who identify as Native American. The group is responsible for recommending additional cultural and co-curricular programming related to Aztec history and culture. Members will also be tasked with articulating and recommending ways to meaningfully include local Native American tribes in SDSU’s significant functions and annual ceremonial events, such as All-University Convocation and Commencement.
  • An immediate change will dismiss the use of the nicknames “Monty” and “Zuma,” noting that the use of such nicknames in any context is inappropriate. SDSU will rename its annual awards for outstanding faculty, staff and alumni in coordination with the appropriate university committees, to eliminate the use of the nicknames.
Roush said SDSU will also strengthen ties with local indigenous groups while embracing and teaching positive elements about what is known about the Aztec Empire and its people. SDSU will also make changes to honor the Aztec culture and will henceforth refer to the Aztec Warrior as “spirit leader, not mascot,” she said.  

Roush’s decisions were informed by the work of a 17-member task force of students, faculty, staff, alumni and members at large. The task force was convened in February 2018, following the University Senate’s passage of a non-binding resolution recommending that SDSU create a task force to evaluate the university’s Aztec identity and retire the Aztec Warrior and related symbols.

The task force conducted interviews and studied scholarly research on the Aztec culture as well as native and indigenous communities. Members reviewed the 2001 task force report and recommendations related to the Aztec identity. They also considered the results of a major SDSU survey involving students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. SDSU disseminated a total of 200,584 surveys, and 12,755 surveys were completed. Survey respondents left 6,128 comments, which the task force reviewed, finding overwhelming support in favor of retaining the Aztec name and Aztec Warrior.

The Aztec name and Aztec Warrior were found to be important sources of pride for the collective majority of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who opted to share their viewpoints with Roush and the task force.

Roush said the status of the Aztec Warrior was “the most challenging and difficult decision” to make.

“The majority voices have not prevented any of us from hearing the voices of those who are deeply offended and hurt by this outcome,” Roush said. “I acknowledge that those who are offended and hurt have legitimate reasons. We must recognize that historical acts and current-day thoughtless disregard constitute a hard reality. It is incumbent upon us all to act with respect as we move forward.”  

Roush thanked the University Senate for its leadership in calling for a reevaluation of the Aztec identity in light of contemporary conditions. Roush also thanked SDSU students, other faculty and staff, alumni and community members for providing leadership and sharing their viewpoints.

“The task force members did indeed provide a solid framework,” she said. “They also provided an example of respectful discourse and civility regarding a deeply divisive matter. It is a powerful example for our entire community to emulate as we embrace respect as the foundation for our actions now and in the future.” 

President-Designate Adela de la Torre’s Statement on Aztec Identity

After Roush made the announcement, President-Designate Adela de la Torre expressed appreciation for the “deep reflection” that led up to the decisions, saying she is fully committed to the plans Roush set forth.

“I thank President Roush, the University Senate, and the task force for their leadership and for their respectful and widely consultative approach to this issue, and recognize the cultural sensitivity surrounding SDSU’s historical and continued use of the Aztec moniker,” de la Torre said.

“I fully support the final decision and statement made by President Roush and look forward to working closely with on- and off-campus communities regarding the respectful treatment and historic accuracy of the Aztec identity and Aztec Warrior, including the commitment to culturally appropriate education.”

SDSU community expresses support of the decisions

Associated Students President Chris Thomas gave appreciation to Roush and the Aztec Identity Task Force for their in-depth analyses.

“I would also like to acknowledge the University Senate for fostering this important discussion about the Aztec identity and thank President Sally Roush for her strong leadership in creating the task force and engaging the SDSU community in the dialogue,” Thomas said.

“I support the decisions made by President Roush,” he said. “I look forward to working closely with students and the entire SDSU community to advance our commitment to culturally appropriate education and ensure that representations of our Aztec identity are respectful and historically accurate.”

Marcie Bober-Michel, chair of the University Senate, said she appreciates the thorough review led by Roush and the task force.

“Senators appreciate both the president’s commitment to a thorough review and the task force’s diligent efforts to meet its charge and provide recommendations for her to consider,” Bober-Michel said.

“I support the decisions President Roush shared with us today — in particular, her affirmation of the university’s commitment to a strong education program focused on Aztec culture and the respectful and historically accurate treatment of the Aztec identity.”

Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation Tribal Chair Cody Martinez shared support for the decisions.

“President Roush has approached this decision-making process with the utmost care and communication with the local native people,” Martinez said. “I respect her decision and look forward to working with SDSU going forward to bring more awareness and attention to the local Kumeyaay tribes and their history of contributions to this region.”

Dan Montoya, assistant vice president of SDSU Alumni, also expressed support for Roush’s decisions and the institutional commitment to expand Aztec culture education and collaboration.

“I believe President Roush’s decisions are the best choice for San Diego State University,” Montoya said. “I appreciate the work of the task force, as it is important that we follow through on the building of Aztec culture education. We must continue to recognize and work in partnership with our surrounding indigenous communities. Working together will allow us to be successful.”

Director of Intercollegiate Athletics John David Wicker also said he supports the decisions.

“As a university and as an athletic department, we take tremendous pride in the Aztec name. Our coaches and student-athletes respect and appreciate the Aztec culture and the great responsibility that comes with the honor of holding the name,” Wicker said. “We look forward to carrying on the rich tradition of the San Diego State Aztecs.”