University drops hand signal tradition, too close to ‘White Power’ sign

The announcement was made as part of a larger effort to mitigate “systemic racism.” on campus.

San Jose State University announced it will retire a traditional hand gesture meant to emulate the school’s mascot.

San Jose State University in California is nixing its hand gesture tradition as a way of fighting “systemic racism,” as the university president says it is too close to a “well-known White Power” symbol. 

In a Juneteenth-themed letter to the campus community, SJSU President Mary Papazian announced that the school will retire its hand gesture tradition as part of a larger effort to create “long-term strategies to change policies and practices at the root of institutional and systemic racism.”

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“We will retire the use of the ‘Spartan Up’ hand gesture, a recent addition to SJSU’s traditions, which, if done incorrectly, resembles what has become a well-known White Power hand gesture,” wrote Papazian, adding that “a New Traditions working group represented by students, faculty, and staff will explore and recommend new traditions to further strengthen our Spartan spirit.”

The “Spartan Up” hand gesture has been an officially recognized university tradition that closely resembles the “OK” hand symbol. 

“To create a Spartan head with your fingers, form a helmet with your thumb and index finger. Curl remaining three fingers over the top of the helmet, mimicking a feathered plume. Share generously,” reads an explainer on the university website. 

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“We all agree that the gesture has become part of the fabric and footprint of our University, however when the gesture is used improperly, it can be offensive to some members of our University family,” said SJSU Athletics Director Marie Tuite, calling the decision to discontinue the hand signal “timely and appropriate.”

“I call on every member of this community to help San José State become the fully inclusive, anti-racist, multi-cultural organization to which it aspires,” said Papazian in her announcement. “This means acting decisively and intentionally on a number of different fronts at the same time, all of which are important in meeting the needs of our community members.”

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Other efforts announced alongside the retirement of the hand gesture include “developing a physical display and interactive environment that explores SJSU’s complex history with race in an authentic and honest way,” and new staff training on “micro-aggression,” “white privilege,” and “racial oppression.”

“I want to emphasize that this is only the beginning, not the end, of our focus on addressing systemic racism at San José State University,” added Papazian. "Our work will not conclude when the current protests and demonstrations happening nationwide have subsided.”

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