PET PYVES: Pros and Cons of the “Spirit Rock”

Yves Nguyen, Staff Writer

I don’t particularly want to criticize the “Spirit Rock” now outside of the D’Angelo Center (DAC) because everyone involved probably had good intentions. But truthfully, it highlights long standing problems at St. John’s.

For a university connected to historic appropriation of Indigenous culture and lore, naming the rock “Spirit Rock” only illuminates how we haven’t moved past that history and righted those wrongs just yet. For those who aren’t as well versed in St. John’s history, our nickname used to be the “Redmen,” which eventually turned into a logo and mascot that in retrospect was a racist portrayal of Native Americans.

Even today our mascot is Johnny Thunderbird, another appropriation of Indigenous mythology from different tribes, according to the journal of Archaeology of Eastern North America—without regard for the cultural traditions, mythology, symbolic and spiritual importance of the creature to various Indigenous tribes.

Red Storm Sports said on its mascot history page online that they “did not have an original basis in Native American culture,” but that mirrors the events of today.

Perhaps, the “spirit” in “Spirit Rock” means school spirit, as some may argue. However, using the term, and even moreso with the nature of superstition of gaining strength from the rock, still appropriates and erases Indigenous culture.

I don’t doubt that those involved had good intentions related to school spirit; however the word “spirit,” especially when connected to superstitious strength, harkens to Indigenous culture. Think of the term “spirit animal.”

St. John’s events describes the rock as “a symbol of strength, boldness, and firmness [and] will become an important part of the St. John’s community and a source of strength for those who need it.”

This begs the question: “For whom?”

Moreover, the rock was originally supposed to be called “Pride Rock” according to the Blessing and Unveiling event post, but was changed for unknown reasons.

If it could have been called “Pride Rock,” it could have been named anything else. Johnny’s Rock, Red Rock, Red Storm Boulder, even Dwayne the Rock. If St. John’s can’t avoid alienating Indigenous students, who can they really provide strength to?

All of this isn’t to say that I don’t like the idea of creating new monuments and traditions on campus, but let’s admit it—the rock is also a horrible shape, and it cost money to move it from behind Donovan Hall to where it is now.

How much did it cost to move it? No one has said.

But whatever the cost; some students are upset that any money was spent at all. We could have just gotten a brick wall or another statue instead of a big-red-rock.

Here I question the various levels of approval for naming the rock that points to deeper problems in our university that calls into question just how open-minded and supportive our school really is.

It’s all fun and games, if we ignore our history and the various identities of our community, but if St. John’s really wants to be an open environment, there needs to be more thoughtful and critical conversations about our campus.