Catholic University Scraps Its Seal Because It Looks Like a White Man Is Giving Directions

(Joerg Carstensen/dpa via AP)

If you’ve been losing sleep over Marquette University’s seal, the weekend should bring sweet dreams.

For those unfamiliar with the fiasco, seeds of worry were sown shortly after the private Jesuit research college’s founding in 1881.


The official emblem utilized artwork depicting namesake Father Jacques Marquette during a 1673 journey.

In the original 1869 painting, Jacques stands in a canoe. He faces an American Indian, who’s gesturing toward the mighty Mississippi.

Jacques points the same way.

Also in the boat: two tribesmen, seated with oars.

But prejudice comes in all shapes, including circles. The seal was of the 360° sort, and only the lower left half featured a piece of the painting.

Hence, some characters were cut out. The viewable result: Marquette pointing as a native piddles with his paddle.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

[C]ritics say the way in which the scene was cropped to be put in the seal leads to a misleading depiction of the power dynamic between the Jesuits and their Native guides — one rooted in the mindset of settler colonialism.

Indeed — a brouhaha boiled because it appeared the white guy was the one giving directions.

“What did the image in the…seal indicate about the relationship between Jesuits and the guides who led them through an unknown land?” the Sentinel asks. “What did it mean that the viewer sees Jacques Marquette’s face but not the guide’s?”


Cries for a change date as far back as 2005. But more recently, things heated up:

The activism by Native students came to a head on Indigenous People’s Day in 2020, when protesters occupied the university’s administrative building, Zilber Hall, for two hours, led by the university’s Native American Student Association. 

Among the students’ demands were that the university increase enrollment among Native students, provide more support for those students, and change its seal, said Alex Liberato, a 2021 alumnus and former president of the Native American Student Association.

That year — compliments of a crew commissioned by President Michael Lovell — a review of the seal began.

The committee pulled from expertise across the university’s campus and the broader community, including Jesuits, administrators, Native students and faculty, Native community members, and experts on history, English, business and law.

According to the college, the art was irredeemable:

[T]he full painting…is still problematic in how it uses a composite image of a Native American when there were multiple tribes that Father Marquette encountered on his journey. Showing only one Native person suggests homogeneity and is not an accurate representation of the diversity of those who were native to the land on which Marquette University is located.

And so, a new insignia debuts.

More from the Sentinel:

On the left, seven red and gold stripes represent the seven heroic brothers from the maternal side of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s family. Ignatius founded the Jesuit order. In the upper right is the monogram of the Society of Jesus with a rising sun that shines down on the landscape below.


As for the bottom, it’s now a river and three stalks of rice — “a staple commodity for Native nations.”


This isn’t the first time MU has nixed tribal tributes. In 1993, it retired the Warrior as its mascot.

As you may know, there’s a lot of that goin’ ’round:

Foul Bawl? The Cleveland Indians Toss Around a Name Change

Major University Accuses Its Own Mascot of White Supremacy, but Now Everything’s ‘Okay’

The Racism of Trees? Portland School Presses Pause on a Proposed Mascot Due to Its Terrible Ties

College Announces Fierce New Mascot: A Sexless Social Justice Warrior Victimized by Climate Change

Woke Fail: University Evicts a Slaveholder’s Statue, Still Puts His Name on Every T-Shirt

Back to Marquette, alumnus Alex is inspired:

“Just to think that we could do this, and change, quite literally, the history of the university — that is just something I will forever cherish.”

“We…sought to create a seal with a sense of history, purpose, pride, and healing that supports the efforts of institutional change, progress, and reconciliation,” he says.

Regardless of racism, the emblem’s original upper portion could’ve certainly used a change.


Per the school, officials weren’t even sure what the words on the logo meant:

The phrase on the prior seal — Numen Flumenque, purported to mean “God and the River” — is not rooted in the Jesuit tradition.

We’re living in interesting times: Someone somewhere decided that to honor a group by saluting them as a symbol of strength or success…is to dishonor them.

The best way to pay recognition? Often, to erase them entirely.

It’s a brand new day of enlightenment, and it seems we’re figuring it out as we go.



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