Aztec Identity History

Aztec History

After nearly three decades of unofficial nicknames, including Professors and Wampus Cats, student body votes to adopt the Aztec moniker. The decision to choose the Aztec as a moniker was in conjunction with preliminary plans to move to a new campus and was done in unison with changing the name of the school newspaper to ‘The Aztec’ and featuring a yearbook with prominent Aztec symbols.

San Diego State College unveiled acclaimed sculptor Donal Hord’s black diorite piece, titled ‘Aztec.’ This highly acclaimed Works Progress Administration-funded sculpture was the centerpiece of campus for many decades.

For the first time, a student portrays an Aztec in a football game skit. The character becomes known as “Monty Montezuma.” Over time, the character’s apparel is adjusted to become more historically accurate.

Associated Students’ Council passes a resolution, backed by the Native American Student Alliance, that calls for retiring the Aztec moniker and Montezuma mascot because they are racist and culturally insensitive.

Associated Students puts the issue to a student vote, and students vote to keep the Aztec moniker and mascot.

The University Senate, comprised of faculty and staff, votes to retain the moniker while retiring the Montezuma mascot.

The Alumni Association board votes to support the moniker and mascot.

SDSU President Stephen Weber appoints a task force to make recommendations on the Aztec moniker and Montezuma mascot.

Task force recommends updating logos and symbols to be culturally appropriate and historically accurate; defining Montezuma as an ambassador but not as a mascot; educating the university community on Aztec history and culture; and strengthening programs and events that support indigenous communities.

Weber decides that the Monty Montezuma name should be dropped, the costume should be made historically accurate and the character should have a regal bearing.

Ambassador Montezuma debuts to speak on Aztec history and culture at events, but he is poorly received.

Alumni form the Aztec Warrior Foundation and unveil an unofficial, more historically accurate Aztec Warrior representation.

Associated Students approves a resolution from the Native American Student Alliance and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán to oppose the Aztec Warrior.

The Aztec Warrior becomes official through a university referendum vote of students and alumni.

A resolution in support of recognizing the importance of Aztec culture to San Diego State University is passed by the Associated Students Council.

Associated Students passes a referendum, which included 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.

SDSU debuts Zuma, a jaguar mascot, at football games. The jaguar was retired in 2012.

Queer People of Color Collective back a resolution to abolish the use of “Aztec” and the Aztec Warrior, which was not passed by the Associated Students University Council.

The Native American Student Alliance brings forward a resolution to retire the Aztec moniker and Aztec Warrior, which was not passed by the Associated Students University Council.

University Senate votes to end human representation of an Aztec and to stop representing the culture with spears or weapons that “connote barbaric representations of the Aztec culture.” The resolution calls for forming a task force to consider the use of the Aztec moniker and education related to the Aztec identity.

SDSU President Sally Roush formed the Aztec Identity Task Force (AITF) in response to the University Senate passing a non-binding resolution on Nov. 7, 2017 recommending SDSU retire the Aztec Warrior and related symbols. Senators also requested that SDSU President Sally Roush form a task force to review and make recommendations about the appropriateness of the continued usage of the moniker.

The 17-member AITF included representation among students, faculty, staff, alumni and general community members and was charged with investigating and making recommendations related to SDSU’s continued use of the Aztec identity, including the name and associated symbols. 


SDSU President Sally Roush appoints a 17-member Aztec Identity Task Force comprised of students, faculty, staff, alumni and members at large.

April 30:

The Aztec Identity Task Force recommends to SDSU President Sally Roush that SDSU retain the Aztec moniker; it is divided on the Aztec Warrior. Among other recommendations, the task force suggests the use of a variety of Aztec symbols, providing education on the Aztec culture and supporting indigenous cultures. Final Report of the 2018 Aztec Identity Task Force.

May 17:

SDSU President Sally Roush reports to the University Senate her decisions to continue the use of the Aztec identity. She also establishes a governing authority, chaired by the president, to ensure recognition of and reverence for the Aztec civilization become part of daily life at SDSU. Former SDSU President Sally Roush's full statement.

SDSU President Sally Roush has announced that SDSU will retain the Aztec identity. Also, the Aztec Warrior will be appropriately described as a “spirit leader” and will behave with dignity at all times and not partake in any behavior that misrepresents Aztec culture.

Aztec Culture Education

SDSU President Sally Roush also called for: A governing body, which has yet to be formed and named, to be chaired by the SDSU president and charged with actively addressing issues related to SDSU’s Aztec identity and the ethical and fiduciary responsibility of carrying the Aztec name.

The Aztec Culture Education Committee (ACEC), formed during the 2016-2017 year, to reconvene and be formally institutionalized. The ACEC, which has been on hiatus awaiting SDSU President Sally Roush’s final decisions on the Aztec identity, is responsible for introducing additional cultural and co-curricular programming related to Aztec history and culture.

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.

SDSU Awards

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. SDSU will immediately rename its annual awards for outstanding faculty, staff and alumni in coordination with the appropriate university committees, to eliminate the use of the nicknames.

Archived Statements regarding decision to retain the Aztec Identity.


Members of the AITF met regularly from February 2018 through April 2018 to review and analyze source documents and survey results, including: the 2001 task force report presented to then-SDSU President Stephen Weber and documents associated with that report; scholarly work related to native and indigenous peoples; and surveys that had been distributed to students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

Task members synthesized their analysis and recommendations in a report, the “Final Report of the Aztec Identity Task Force,” which was presented to SDSU President Sally Roush for review toward her final decision. 

The original mission statement, which shaped the work of the Aztec Identity Task Force from February 2018 through April 2018, reads:  

The mission of the 2018 Aztec Identity Task Force (AITF) is to consider the opinions of stakeholders associated with San Diego State University and provide recommendations related to the Aztec identity to the President of San Diego State University. 

Members of the Aztec Identity Task Force (AITF) served as volunteers and were not compensated for their service.

Members reviewed scholarly research related to native and indigenous peoples, email correspondence sent to SDSU from various constituent groups, social media postings related to Aztec identify conversations, formal documents and other archival materials. Such materials built upon a 2001 task force report presented to then-SDSU President Stephen Weber, which was also reviewed by AITF members.

Task force members also received informative presentations pertaining to the history of the Aztec name and Aztec Warrior, and also reviewed survey results from 12,755 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

SDSU disseminated a total of 200,584 surveys 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.

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. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

The unanimous recommendations of the Aztec Identity Task Force (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 plans and ideas put forth by the Aztec Culture Education Committee (ACEC) and recommends that this organization be further institutionalized and allowed to move forward with appropriate authority and funding for the various projects.
  • The AITF members are divided regarding the continued use of the Aztec Warrior to represent SDSU’s spirit leader.