University Faces Criticism Over ‘Racially Insensitive’ New Athletic Logo

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When a university released a new athletic logo, they quickly faced criticism. After taking a closer look at the design, some believed it was racially insensitive, thanks to a small detail seen in the saber handles.

The University of Virginia (Photo Credit: Screenshot)

The University of Virginia Athletics partnered with Nike to develop new branding in an effort to appear “bolder and more powerful.” When Virginia Athletics unveiled the finished product, however, they quickly came under fire, The Cavalier Daily reported. Apparently, a detail in the new V-sabre mark made the new logo “racially insensitive,” according to the school’s newspaper.

The controversy was ignited when some took a closer look at the new design, which will be used on all athletics uniforms and merchandise. It features saber handle grips, and those grips “mimic the serpentine walls” found on the school’s grounds — walls which were originally constructed to “hide enslaved laborers from view,” the outlet explained. Because of the history, some found this detail “racially insensitive.”

The serpentine walls (Photo Credit: Flickr/Karen Blaha)

“The serpentine walls were originally built at the University to hide enslaved laborers from the University community and muffle the sounds of their daily life,” Maryanne Xue wrote for The Cavalier Daily. “Outlining each of the pavilion gardens framing the Lawn, these curved walls shielded the living quarters of slaves from view. While white students went to class, black slaves were concealed in pavilion basements.”

The fact that the new logo contained grips on the sabers handles, which the old one did not, didn’t sit well with some students who knew the history behind the walls. One such student told the school paper that the new logo disregards the school’s history behind the walls, saying the walls “contribute” to the “historically non-inclusive environment” of the school.

University of Virginia Athletics
Post made by Virginia Cavaliers, noting the saber grips were intended to mimic the serpentine walls. (Photo Credit: Twitter)
University of Virginia Athletics
The University of Virginia Athletics old and new logos (Photo Credit: UVA/composite created by TapHaps for comparison)

“When U. Va. Athletics decided to incorporate the walls into their logo designs, I felt as if they were attempting to ‘glorify’ past University wrongdoings,” Lauren Cochran, a sophomore student, said. “For many, this wall evokes stringent feelings of emotional distress and pain,” she alleged.

“As an African-American student who walks past these walls every day, I experience uncomfortable emotions relating to the history and justification of the walls,” Cochran continued. Pointing to the new, controversial design, which mimics the walls in the handles of the sabers, she added, “There is nothing ‘strong’ about a wall that incites racist rhetoric.” And, at least one professor agrees and echoed Cochran’s remarks.

University of Virginia Athletics
The developers of the new design look at a photo of the wall during the creation of the new logo. (Photo Credit: Screenshot)

“I came here the day after [late Charlottesville counterprotester] Heather Heyer was killed,” Media Studies professor Meredith Clark said. “So, that summer I was here while all of that was unfolding. It was definitely a vivid reminder of where I was and the history that people want to make a current reality. That’s the feeling I have when I pass those walls.”

Explaining that the campus’s serpentine walls make her sad, Clark continued, “Sadness that the experience of my ancestors is being enslaved on this university’s grounds and building it and the university still not doing, in my view, enough to pay reparations to the ancestors or the descendants of those ancestors.”

Clark felt that the school, as well as Nike, overlooked people who might have “emotional connections” to the school’s athletics logo. “I’m sure that a lot of people just don’t find [this] something to be upset about, and it’s not so upsetting that it will keep me from doing a good job or for enjoying what I do or being at U.Va.,” she said. “I do think it is serious that we acknowledge our complex history … and that we do our best to do that while upholding the values that we claim to profess. That is, to me, essential to being both good and great.”

Although the saber grips were admittedly intended to mimic the serpentine walls, it raises an important question. When is it reasonable to be offended by a design? You can decide, but we should point out that the feature does make the sabers more dimensional, just like the changes to the V itself, as explained in the video above. And, if you took notice, the director of athletics in the video is a black woman. She didn’t seem to have an issue with the new design. So, should others?