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Valparaiso University: Mascot Transition Communications Strategy

Issues management, media relations

Valparaiso University (Valpo) is a selective, independent Lutheran institution in Valparaiso, Indiana, an hour’s drive from Chicago. Founded in 1859, Valpo offers a thorough grounding in the liberal arts as well as professional training and graduate study, helping students find their own paths to lifelong personal, spiritual, and professional growth. The university currently enrolls about 4,500 students from over 50 countries.

Due to building on- and off-campus concerns, and the current social and political climate, Valparaiso University had been intensifying its consideration around retiring the controversial Crusader mascot. Resolutions were filed by the Student and Faculty Senates, as well as the Alumni Association, that stated the Crusader mascot represents actions and beliefs that stand in direct contrast with the University’s publicly stated mission and values. The Crusader imagery has also been tied to white supremacist hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, and was displayed by some of the individuals that participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The university’s Interim President decided that it was in the Valpo’s best interest – both current and future – to retire the Crusader mascot to ensure a more welcoming and inclusive environment. Reputation Partners was engaged to support Valpo throughout the decision-making process, as well as to develop a comprehensive communications strategy leading up to and during the announcement.

Strategies

The team began with an extensive audit of other universities that have carried the Crusader name or other controversial mascots in the past and determined that the vast majority of organizations have made the decision to transition mascots. That, coupled with the campus resolutions and survey results of more than 7,000 Valpo students, alumni, faculty and staff, informed RP’s recommendation that Valpo move forward with retiring the Crusader.

Once the decision was finalized, RP developed a comprehensive communications strategy to support Valpo with the announcement, which included:

The RP team worked closely with Valpo’s leadership team to roll out the announcement, which was positively embraced by the campus community and media.

Results

Media outreach of the announcement produced widespread placements across all major national, regional and sports outlets, with coverage exceeding 1.5 billion total impressions.

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