Simon Fraser University’s crest, with its offending crosses
Another university is dropping a cross from its historic imagery, saying it creates confusion and sends the wrong message.
The announcement from Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, B.C., about the school’s Coat of Arms brings it in alignment with a precedent set earlier by the College of William and Mary, which said in a story WND broke that a historic cross in a structure built as a Christian chapel hundreds of years ago would have to go because it offended some people.
A spokesman for Simon Fraser said the two crosses on the 40-year-old emblem are a problem. Warren Gill, the school’s vice-president of university relations, said the school doesn’t want people to think the wrong thing.
“For some people, particularly internationally, the crosses were seen to identify us as a private religious institution as opposed to a secular public one, and a lot of our international folks were getting that back,” he said.
“If our name was the University of Burnaby, it probably wouldn’t have conveyed the same thing, but named for a person it caused some confusion internationally,” he told the CBC.
The school is named for Canadian explorer Simon Fraser, who lived from 1776-1862 and owes his fame to his expeditions through Canada in 1805 and 1808. He spent many years in the fur trade and took part in the conflict between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, but in 1818 he was acquitted of treason, conspiracy and being an accessory to murder.
He established several trading posts and explored the river that now bears his name.
“We had to pass where no human being should venture,” Fraser later concluded.
Gill said a new coat of arms will replace the crosses with emblems of books, although the old coat of arms, which has been used since 1965, will remain on university buildings. It was approved by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the custodian of and the authority for Scottish Heraldry, and was based on the personal coat of arms of the clan chief, Simon Fraser Lord Lovat.
Gill said the new design has taken officials 18 months to develop, and it is expected to be approved by the Canadian Heraldic Authority by summer.
Notes of a formal meeting of the school’s Board of Governors said the change will replace each “crosslet” with a book, so “the top part of the shield (the chief) would contain three matching books.”
The school said the “crosslets” are representative of those crosses used by crusaders on their travels.
At virtually the same time, the school announced that was creating a center for the study of Muslim issues.
It is being funded by $1 million from the Amin Lalji family and $250,000 from school Board of Governors chair Saida Rasul and her husband Firoz.
“We have already a very strong program in Middle Eastern and Islamic history, an endowed lectureship in Iranian and Persian studies, courses in Persian, and soon, Arabic and other languages,” said SFU President Michael Stevenson. “These activities are a strong base for building an internationally recognized center for scholarship that embraces the full diversity of Muslim societies and cultures.”
In a months-old controversy that still is reverberating, the president of the College of William and Mary College ordered the removal of a donated cross from the historic Wren Chapel.
WND broke the story on Oct. 27 when university administrator Melissa Engimann circulated an e-mail noting that the cross was going to be stored in order to make the chapel “less of a faith-specific space.”
President Gene Nichol last week sent an e-mail to the “college community” admitting that he “acted too quickly and should have consulted more broadly” in deciding to remove the cross. So to make up for that, he said a plaque would be put up in the chapel and the cross would be put on the altar for extended hours on Sunday.
Students and alums who have assembled in a group called SaveTheWrenCross.org, however, said that wasn’t good enough.
“Nichol acknowledged that his unilateral action upset many current students and alumni, who believed that his decision was a dilution of the history and traditions of the College and an example of an animus toward religion in general and Christianity in particular,” the group said.
“After apologizing for his failure to involve others in this historic decision, Nichol went on in his letter – apparently unaware of the irony – to dictate what he obviously thinks is a compromise solution to the problem he created,” said the organization, which had collected almost 7,500 signatures on a petition seeking the return of the cross.
Alum says it’s the historic Wren Chapel, not the Wren Spare Room
“It is the Wren Chapel, not the Wren Spare Room,” wrote Karla Bruno, a 1981 graduate. “Nichol does not address the idea that the Chapel with the cross on permanent display was indeed welcoming as witnessed by the plethora of non-Christian and secular events that have been held there over the years. No one has been turned away because they were not Christian.”
Another graduate, Karen Hall, of the Class of 1978, said Nichols’ argument doesn’t make sense.
“He explains … the cross has made a number of people feel uncomfortable in the chapel. I would venture to guess that a far greater number of people have been made uncomfortable by the removal of the cross. Why is it that one group’s discomfort is enough to merit drastic action, but the other group’s discomfort is virtually worthless?”
The old policy was that the cross was on permanent display on the altar of the chapel, and was removed only when someone using the room asked that it be removed. Nichol’s new policy is that the cross is permanently in storage, and will be brought out only on special request.
The group said its top priority will be for the school’s Board of Visitors to talk about the issues at the next meeting, in February.
SaveTheWrenCross.org is an ad hoc coalition of students and alumni who oppose the removal of the century-old cross, which was given to the college by Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in the 1930s.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has not returned messages left by WND seeking a comment.
She recently was named chancellor of the college. It was during her tenure in the Supreme Court that a growing intolerance by the court for religious symbols – particularly Christian symbols – in public places became evident.
The Wren Chapel, built about 274 years ago, became an integral part of the university when it was a Christian school.
“In the name of tolerance, we have intolerance; in the name of welcoming, we have hostility, and in the name of unity, we now have division,” said junior Joe Luppino-Esposito.