Frisbee controversy

This past semester the St. Olaf women’s ultimate frisbee teams officially changed their names to Tempest and Vortex after being told that their prior names, Durga and Shanti, were offensive to Hindu culture.

Senior co-chair of Celebrate South Asia! Hamsitha Dontamsetty ’16 initially approached the team when it was brought to her attention that both the names and symbols it was using were offensive to some people on campus.

“Durga is the name of a goddess, a pretty important and powerful goddess in Hinduism,” Dontamsetty said. “We thought it was pretty disrespectful that they had the name of the goddess on t-shirts.”

Not only was the name of the team problematic, but so were the symbols that emblazoned the team’s frisbees.

“It was really the Om symbol on frisbees that we thought was most offensive, because those frisbees touch the ground and are thrown around, and that’s not okay,” Dontamsetty said. “The Om, which is probably the most sacred and important symbol in Hinduism, represents a lot of things. It represents the three trinity gods that we have. It represents the first sound that the universe made when it was created. It’s a prayer; you could say it’s a prayer for peace on earth.”

At the heart of the issue was that the frisbee team was appropriating Hindu symbols and names.

“We completely understand that the frisbee team didn’t know, and that’s where the cultural appropriation part comes in. They didn’t understand the significance of what it means to us,” Dontamsetty said.

“It was something we’d thought about the last three years, but kind of fell on the back burner,” St. Olaf women’s ultimate team captain Emma Keiski ’16 said. “Then we had representatives from Celebrate South Asia! come and speak to our team. And then everyone was really receptive to the idea of changing the name once we knew why it was perceived as offensive.”

Both sides quickly reached an understanding, and the frisbee team members made every effort to remedy the situation, even though it required a lengthy and expensive process on their part.

“The cost of getting new jerseys for all 40 girls in the program was upwards of $2,000, so we had to raise money for that, which we thought would be out of pocket, but the school’s been really helpful, like SOC has been giving us money and we had a GoFundMe campaign and raised about $1,300,” Keiski said.

As for coming up with a new name, the frisbee team created a public document on which both alumni and current students could make suggestions, and then the team voted on them, eventually landing on Tempest and Vortex.

Not everyone was happy with the name change, namely alumni who had played under the previous name.

“They mentioned that the alumni were kind of upset about it, which I understand because it’s a huge part of their time at St. Olaf, and they have t-shirts and frisbees and all this stuff with the names on them and so it’s very sentimental to them,” Dontamsetty said. “So I think that’s why they’re kind of resistant to the change.”

Ultimately, Dontamsetty and other advocates for the change found current players receptive and willing to listen.

“I really appreciated that they reached out to us and wanted to understand why it was offensive rather than just saying this is what it is and it’s going to stay this way,” Dontamsetty said.