The Cougars will notice a slight change in the crowd when they travel to Spokane this weekend, with the Gonzaga administration discouraging fans from dressing in Mormon missionary costumes.
Since BYU joined the West Coast Conference in 2011, fans in the Gonzaga student section have worn white shirts and ties to mock the predominantly Mormon culture of the basketball team.
This year, with LDS returned missionary Jesse Wade joining the Bulldogs, the decision was made to change the culture and put an end to the potentially offensive joke.
Kendra Andrews, sports editor at the “Gonzaga Bulletin,” was the first to break the story, speaking with several school administrators on the subject. The following quotes are taken from her article:
“[Those costumes don’t] really represent who we are as a university and it shines bad on us and doesn’t show a welcoming community that supports everybody,” Colleen Vandenboom, assistant dean of Student Involvement and Leadership told the Bulletin. “So every year it has come up and we have been talking a lot with Kennel Club and they agree — it’s not cool.”
Claire Murphy, president of Gonzaga’s student section, the Kennel Club, wrote a letter to students, following discussions with the board over the summer.
“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 the 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?”
As Murphy notes, Gonzaga is a Catholic university, ironically mocking the traditions and culture of another Christian denomination — the LDS church.
While the school cannot force the students or fans to dress a certain way, any fan seen in missionary attire at Saturday’s game will be talked to and invited to change into a Gonzaga t-shirt provided by the Kennel Club.
Coach Dave Rose chimed in on the topic, jokingly saying, “I served a mission years ago, and I never wore a bike helmet. So, maybe keep the bike helmets at home.”
Kennel Club leaders and school administrators recognize the costumes are used in an attempt to create a hostile and uncomfortable environment for BYU, something they believe can be achieved in a less offensive way.
BYU visits the Kennel Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. MST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.