Frequently Asked Questions
Decisions on the Aztec Identity
President-Designate Adela de la Torre, who joins SDSU in June 2018, fully accepts the decision of SDSU President Sally Roush. Her statement follows:
“I recognize and appreciate the deep reflection that each of the members of the 2018 Aztec Identity Task Force engaged in these past few months. I thank President Roush, the University Senate, and the task force for their leadership and for their respectful and widely consultative approach to this issue, and recognize the cultural sensitivity surrounding SDSU’s historical and continued use of the Aztec name.
I fully support the final decision and statement made by President Roush and look forward to working closely with on and off campus communities regarding the respectful treatment and historic accuracy of the Aztec identity and Aztec Warrior including the commitment to culturally appropriate education.”
- President-Designate Adela de la Torre
Actions That Informed the Decisions
SDSU President Sally Roush called for the formation of the Aztec Identity Task Force (AITF) in response to the November 7, 2017 resolution of the University Senate. The special 17-member task force represented students, faculty, staff, alumni and members at large to ensure diverse perspectives as the group convened to explore issues related to the Aztec identity.
The AITF’s mission was to provide SDSU President Sally Roush with conclusions and recommendations related to the Aztec identity. All AITF members served in a volunteer capacity and were not compensated for serving.
President Roush requested nominations by various campus groups including Associated Students, the University Senate and SDSU Alumni. Members were then selected to begin meeting in February 2018.
When the AITF convened for the first time, SDSU President Sally Roush stated that the names of the task force members would be held in confidence because of the sensitivity of their charge. Now that the task force has concluded its deliberations, SDSU President Sally Roush has not changed her position. The decision related to the Aztec identity is the President’s own and no task force member should be held accountable or singled out as a result of the outcome.
The University Senate is among several constituent groups whose opinions were weighed seriously by the Aztec Identity Task Force (AITF).
To assist Aztec Identity Task Force members in their research, surveys were distributed to four stakeholder groups: students, faculty and staff, alumni and community members. A total of 200,584 surveys were disseminated and 12,755 surveys were completed, for a response rate of 6.33 percent. Additionally, respondents volunteered 6,128 comments. Results of the anonymous surveys helped inform the AITF’s recommendations.
The AITF members also met with a number of constituencies to get a current-state analysis. Additionally, SDSU President Sally Roush met with local tribal members, and factored into her decisions the content of emails, letters and comments and phone calls to the university.
Members of the Aztec Identity Task Force also reviewed the 2001 task force report on the Aztec identity produced for then-SDSU President Stephen Weber, along with all documentation related to that report. The AITF also studied current and historic research related to the Aztecs and issues broadly related to native and indigenous populations.
Regarding the quantitative and qualitative findings, the AITF found that:
- 88 percent of respondents stated a desire to retain the Aztec name.
- 78 percent of respondents supported the retention of the Aztec Warrior.
The survey of faculty and staff found that 62 percent who responded are in favor of retaining the human representation of the Aztec Warrior, with comments that it should be done in a manner that demonstrates respect, pride and honor.
As respondents indicated overwhelming support for retaining the Aztec name and the Aztec Warrior, many students also called for education and other actions to ensure enhanced cultural sensitivity and respect for Native and indigenous communities and peoples.
The unanimous recommendations of the AITF are as follows:
- SDSU should continue and strengthen its programs and activities to support indigenous peoples.
- It is appropriate to use a variety of symbols from Aztec culture throughout the campus community, including human and animal as well as other symbols, as long as they are culturally appropriate and historically accurate.
- Designers wishing to use any Aztec symbol, human, or animal depiction must understand all of the nuances, subtleties, history, spirituality, symbolism and other issues associated with the particular item.
- The AITF supports the report of the Aztec Culture Education Committee (ACEC) and urges the university to expand upon its recommendations.
- In addition, the AITF members are divided regarding the continued use of a human symbol to represent SDSU’s spirit leader.
Immediate Changes and Next Steps
SDSU President Sally Roush made several important decisions that will be implemented immediately:
- SDSU will establish a governing body, chaired by the SDSU president, to ensure that appropriate recognition of and reverence for the achievements of the Aztec civilization is infused into the daily life of the university. It will provide the focus, continuity and resources that have hampered past university efforts in these areas.
- A separate group, the Aztec Culture Education Committee, will be formally institutionalized and report directly to the governing body. The ACEC will retain its charge of recommending additional courses offerings, events and other program initiatives to expand Aztec culture education at SDSU. The committee will be expanded to include representation of local Native American tribes and will be responsible for articulating and recommending ways to meaningfully include local Native American tribes in the university’s significant functions and annual ceremonial events, such as All-University Convocation and Commencement.
- SDSU President Sally Roush also called for an immediate change to dismiss the use of the nicknames “Monty” and “Zuma,” noting that the use of such nicknames in any context is inappropriate. We will immediately rename our annual awards for outstanding faculty, staff and alumni in coordination with the appropriate university committees, to eliminate the use of the nicknames.
- Additionally, there will be immediate and visible changes in the Aztec Warrior’s demeanor to achieve a respectful portrayal of a powerful figure from Aztec culture.
Through the new governing body, SDSU will continue to adopt changes that explicitly and respectfully align the Aztec identity with the Aztec civilization’s three pillars: knowledge, strength and prowess and giving back to the community.
At the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, a committee of faculty, staff and students was formed to address the need for a comprehensive education plan around SDSU’s Aztec identity. Formally named the Aztec Culture Education Committee (ACEC), this group is committed to deepening campus knowledge about Aztec culture through co-curricular and cultural programs.
The ACEC drew its charge from the 2008 Associated Students referendum in support of the Aztec Culture Project. The referendum and project called for: education programs about Aztec culture to be offered to all incoming students; the commissioning of a glass mosaic mural depicting historically accurate images of the origins of the Aztec culture; and garden areas around campus dedicated to indigenous herbs and plants from areas where the Aztec culture thrived.
Since the ACEC began meeting toward the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, a number of initiatives have been introduced through the group’s direct or indirect intervention:
- During the spring 2018 semester, SDSU introduced LATAM 296: Elementary Nahuatl I through the Center for Latin American Studies. The course was instructed via livestream by a native Nahuatl speaker at the University of Zacatecas in Mexico.
- In February 2018, SDSU anthropology professor Seth Mallios was appointed as the official university history curator. Mallios is responsible for collecting, protecting and interpreting objects of historical and aesthetic importance, including those related to the university’s Aztec identity.
- Student-athletes received training during the fall of 2017 related to Aztec history and culture, and also the Aztec name, and to the proper and appropriate representation of the Aztec Warrior.
While the Aztec Identity Task Force (AITF) was specifically charged with providing recommendations to SDSU President Sally Roush related to the Aztec name and Aztec Warrior, the Aztec Culture Education Committee (ACEC) was formed to explore opportunities for expanding SDSU’s Aztec culture education. The ACEC is expected to continue indefinitely in an environment that provides opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to participate in intentional experiences celebrating the Aztec culture.
SDSU athletic teams will continue to be known as Aztecs and SDSU alumni can continue to identify as Aztecs.
The Aztec Warrior will be retained as Spirit Leader, not mascot. There will be immediate and visible changes in demeanor to achieve a respectful portrayal of a powerful figure from Aztec culture. The university will also undertake an effort to assess whether to add other meaningful symbols, marks or representations, including historically accurate animal symbols that capture the intellectual sophistication, power and bravery of the Aztec civilization.
The University Senate, in its November 2017 resolution, questioned the use of the spear. The AITF studied the historic use of the spear and found that it is was an important symbol of the Aztec Empire. The spear will remain part of the SDSU Athletics logo as a representation of strength and prowess.
As stated earlier, through the newly established governing authority chaired by the president, SDSU will continue to explore additional changes that explicitly and respectfully align the Aztec identity with the Aztec civilization’s three pillars of Knowledge, Strength and Prowess and Giving Back to the Community.
Discussions about the Aztec name and the Aztec Warrior are ongoing and will be facilitated by a governing body that SDSU President Sally Roush has recommended be formed to specifically address issues related to SDSU Aztec identity. Discussions will also be led by members of the Aztec Culture Education Committee (ACEC), a volunteer body of faculty and staff tasked with identifying opportunities for new curricular, co-curricular and other programming.
For More Information
A key source of information about Aztec culture are the research findings and publications of renowned Mexican anthropologist and historian Miguel León-Portilla, which were consulted by the AITF in the course of its deliberations. León-Portilla’s notable works include “The Broken Spears,” “Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind,” “The Aztec Image of Self and Society: An Introduction to Nahua Culture” and “Los Antiguos Mexicanos a Traves de sus Cronicas y Cantares.”
Also consider visiting:
- The Library of Congress
- Encyclopaedia Britannica
- The Ancient History Encyclopedia
- SDSU's Center for Latin American Studies (offers language courses):