What's in a Name? The Clan, SFU and Global Protests

June 11, 2020

What’s in a name?
Where does the SFU ‘The Clan’ team name sit in current context of global protests against systemic injustice?

In recent interviews with Global TV and CKNW radio, SFU Philosophy professor, Holly Andersen cites concern for student athletes when considering a name change for SFU’s The Clan team name. What sits innocently on home grounds has much deeper meaning south of the Canadian border. 

Although the name gives a nod to SFU’s Scottish ancestry and tradition, it also opens student athletes up to harassment and racism based on the meaning of the same name in the US as a virulent white supremacist group.

SFU teams compete exclusively against US teams, as the only Canadian member of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association). This name — The Clan — provokes unintended reactions at away matches, even though US competitors know it's not *that* Klan. Imagine a black student athlete in the US having to tell their grandmother that you’re playing The Clan at football or basketball this season? Imagine student competitors in the US who had to get "the talk" about what to do when they find out that a teacher, an assistant coach, a counselor, a friend's parent, has a white hood in a drawer and is a member of The Klan? 

The Klan is active in cities across the US, and specializes in quiet infiltration. Klan groups have urged members to join police forces as a cover for violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) in the US. The protests that have exploded across the United States show, with vivid video evidence, how widespread police violence is against Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour.

Our student athletes and coaches report regular occurrences of racist harassment against players. Furthermore, SFU teams regularly play in states with controversial Stand Your Ground Laws, where anyone who 'feels threatened' could shoot someone and face no charges. At least a few campuses allowed concealed carry of handguns on campus. Sending our students into that tinderbox with a lit match for a name - there are better ways for SFU to live up to its own ideals of diversity and inclusion.

Under our global duty of care, Dr. Andersen considers that changing the SFU team name is important as we acknowledge public concern and aim for positive change in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the US.

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Study Philosophy at SFU

The word Clan and the word Klan are the same word. They both come from a non-English language that does not recognize a k/c distinction. There are a good number of such languages, including Scandinavian languages like Norwegian, which has no 'c'. There are usually multiple ways to transliterate the same word into English, which means the same word ends up with slightly different spellings.