SCARC Anti-Racist Action: Addressing the Use of the Athletics-Related Phrase “Civil War”

As Beaver and Duck fans throughout Oregon prepare for the annual rivalry football game between Oregon State University and the University of Oregon this week, this post highlights recent work by Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) staff to address the use of the phrase “Civil War” to refer to the long-standing athletic rivalry between Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.

As part of our ongoing commitment to engage in anti-racist archival practices, SCARC staff are identifying harmful language in our existing collection finding aids in order to change the language where appropriate or otherwise acknowledge it and give context for both its historic and continued use. For more information about our work, please see our SCARC Anti-Racist Actions Statement online.

Within SCARC collections, the phrase “Civil War” – in reference to the OSU-UO football game – is used to describe materials related to the annual football game. The term is used by material creators, donors, and SCARC staff. In June 2020, Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray announced that the term “Civil War” will no longer be used by either university because it “represents a connection to a war fought to perpetuate slavery.” With this announcement, the use of the phrase “Civil War” in descriptions of our archival collections was identified by the SCARC staff as a high priority to be addressed as part of our anti-racism work. We developed a plan to take action. 

Step 1: Provide Historical Context 

The first step in that work was to have a SCARC student archivist research and prepare a blog post about the history of the athletic rivalry between Oregon State University and the University of Oregon and the use of the phrase “Civil War”. The student conducted this research in spring term 2021 and the blog post was completed in early summer 2021.

Step 2: Acknowledge the Term

SCARC staff agreed that creation and implementation of a statement addressing the use of this term in our collection descriptions was a high priority action for FY 2022. In October and November 2021, we collaboratively prepared the following statement, following the template we had developed in spring and summer 2021 for statements in other finding aids. 

We acknowledge that materials in SCARC collections and the language that describes them may be harmful. We are actively working to address our descriptive practices; for more information please see our SCARC Anti-Racist Actions Statement online.

The archivist-prepared description of this collection uses the phrase “Civil War” to refer to the long-standing athletic rivalry between Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. A history of this athletic rivalry, and use of the phrase “Civil War” to describe it, is available online in The Origins of the “Civil War” Football Game blog post.

In June 2020, Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray announced that the term  “Civil War” will no longer be used by either university because it “represents a connection to a war fought to perpetuate slavery.”  

We acknowledge the racism represented by the use of this phrase and the harm it may cause our users. In order to provide historical context and to enable standardized searching and access across our collections, we have retained the use of this phrase in the collection description.  

[Date of acknowledgement: November 2021]

Step 3: Identify the Term within Collections 

In parallel with development of the statement, we identified which collection descriptions include the “Civil War” phrase in reference to the athletic rivalry. There were a total of 25 finding aids: 19 guides present both on the SCARC website and in Archives West and 6 guides available only on the SCARC website. In November 2021, the statement above was added to all of these guides.

We added a modified version of our statement to the top of the Athletics Digitized Videos page, and have also changed the section header that used to read “Civil War Football Games” to “Rivalry Games with the University of Oregon.” All of those games were called, for example, “Civil War Football Game, 1950,” and we’ve changed those to “UO vs. OSC, 1950,” etc. 

Step 4: Plan for Continued Action

We understand that our anti-racism work is continuous and on-going and is never fully completed. Therefore, we are committed to the following future steps:

  • This statement will be added to finding aids prepared in the future that include materials that use the phrase “Civil War” provided by creators or donors.
  • When a new phrase to refer to the athletic rivalry is identified by Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, the statement will be revised to include it. 
  • Once a new phrase to refer to the athletic rivalry is identified by Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, we will review descriptions of materials for archivist created metadata to address the use of the phrase. 
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