Augustana University is the premier American holiday destination for Norwegian students looking for a semester abroad.
In fact, the Aftenposten, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Norway, recently named Augustana “the Cancun of America,” and it’s not hard to see why.
With its four-star accomodations (three-star dining plus one star-housing) and friendly native population eager to educate young Europeans on American college traditions and culture, Augustana is a magnet for young Norwegians.
On top of that, the campus proclaims itself to be a “Norwegian Heritage College” and proudly embraces it: the school’s mascot is a Viking and the university often sends native students to Norwegian colleges as part of their broad liberal arts curriculum.
However, Augustana’s proud display of Norwegian heritage has begun to rub some international students the wrong way.
“Every time I turn around, Ole is there,” said Jonas Gjesdal, using the nickname given to Augustana’s beloved Vikings mascot. “I can’t escape him. You know that giant mural, the one in the Morrison Commons? Last night I walked by it and I swear his eyes followed me the whole way.”
Hilga Erikson and others believe that Augustana’s celebration of Viking culture has crossed the line into cultural appropriation.
Erik Lieferson, a sophomore from Oslo, claims that Ole stereotypes his people. Lieferson says that the bearded, helmeted homage to the Scandinavian warriors of old is inaccurate, as only half of Norway’s population wears a beard year-round. The other half of the population is female, and Lieferson suggests that, to be more inclusive, Ole should only be depicted with half a beard.
Olga Odegaardson also believes that Ole is not inclusive enough.
“Over 75 percent of Norway’s population wears glasses or some kind of corrective lenses to see, but has Ole ever worn glasses?” Odegaardson said. “Of course not! Because everyone would rather imagine a sexy, six-packed Norwegian with natural 20/20 vision than recognize us as real people.”
Other students believe the mascot shouldn’t be a Viking at all. These students, led by Thor Hammerson, submitted a petition to change Ole the Viking into Ole the Sponge.
“A sponge is just so much less offensive,” Hammerson wrote in the petition. “So you know you aren’t being culturally insensitive if you paint it on the walls.”
While Hammerson’s petition was eventually rejected on the grounds that it might be inconsiderate to sponges, the appropriateness of a Viking mascot remains a hotly debated topic on campus.
“Jeg forstår ikke spørsmålet,” said Erik McErikson, a junior from Bergsåker, Norway.
Staff and students remain divided on whether Ole is demeaning to Scandinavian culture, but one thing is almost unanimous: the motto “Give like a Viking” has got to go.
The motto was coined as part of a donation drive to raise money for scholarships at Augustana but is widely considered to be insensitive and offensive.
Augustana Professor of Anthropology Kristen Carlson offers some advice on how to really give like a Viking while staying respectful of the cultural values it represents.
“The appropriate way to give like a Viking would be to pretend you were going to donate money and then instead pillage the entire town and kill all of their livestock,” Carlson said.
The professor and many others believe that rewriting such a beautiful and complex culture to fit the famous but cliche American stereotype of the generous Viking is just another example of the cultural ethnocentrism plaguing our country.
The Norwegian Embassy in Washington D.C. provided its official stance on this culturally sensitive issue.
“This is clearly not a real news article and you are not a real reporter. If you do not stop emailing us immediately, it will be considered harassment and dealt with appropriately,” a representative of the embassy said in a statement.