WuShock waves ‘thin blue line’ flag, sparking controversy

Screenshot from Wichita Police Department’s Facebook

Controversy erupted on Facebook following the Wichita Police Department’s post, featuring WSU’s mascot, WuShock, holding the “thin blue line” flag — a symbol often associated with the movement “blue lives matter.”

Wu was at the parade with Budweiser Clydesdales on June 2, an event held to raise money for the Wichita Police Foundation, which hosted the celebration. After the parade, the WPD posted a gallery of images from the day, and the first photo in the gallery was the one of Wu and the flag.

Over 500 comments under the post are a mixture of criticism and praise for the event. Many commented specifically about the Wichita State mascot being involved.

“Do you know what that blue line represents! It symbolizes hate and racism!” one commenter wrote.

“Nice to see a university supporting the police,” another user said.

While a variation of the “thin blue line” flag emerged during the Crimean War in 1854 and has been seen at times since then, the flag became widely used only in the last decade.

During the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, the thin blue line flags displayed there only added more fuel to the flames. The flag began to take on an increased meaning of an “us vs them” mentality to many, meaning the police vs Black people.

Kathlynn Short, a 2022 WSU graduate and former SGA underserved senator and chief of staff, said that part of the problem is that the flag means a variety of different things to people.

“I do recognize that there are people out there who look at that flag and they’re like, ‘Absolutely, let’s support the police,’” Short said. “It’s just the problem is that some people look at the flag and they’re like, ‘that is blatantly a symbol of racism.’”

Short adopted the title of “leading WuShock expert” during her time at the university, spending extensive time researching the mascot as well as understanding its responsibilities and roles. Short tweeted after this incident, highlighting an email she said she sent to over a dozen entities and figures at WSU.

“I hope that there may be a public University response,” Short wrote in the email sent to university officials. “I don’t know what to encourage other than a statement, specifically mentioning that this flag waving was an unacceptable use of the WuShock costume. This is not what should sink the reputation of our decades-old, unique Wheatshocker.”

Many comments focussed on the ill-timing of the post, referring to the recently leaked text messages between local enforcement officers that showcase racist memes and texts, reported by the Wichita Eagle in May 2022.

“Flying a racist symbol after getting busted for racist texts?” a commenter wrote. “Doubling down isn’t exactly winning hearts and minds.”

At this time, neither Wichita State nor Wichita State Athletics has made a public statement about Wu holding the flag.

“There’s definitely a lot of things that need to be fixed,” WSU senior Ramon Mostate said. “If you’re gonna represent one thing, you got to do it for the others as well because (posting/flying the “thin blue line” flag) is gonna make 90 percent of the school feel alienated, especially with the cultural connotations of that flag.”

When asked via email about the event and Wu, Associate AD for Strategic Communications Tami Cutler said that WSU looks forward to continuing to improve the mascot program.

“We have already made – and will continue to make – changes to our processes and procedures to ensure that Wu is a representative of and for all members of our community,” Culter said via email. “This includes training of our mascot program and spirit squad staff and participants, not just on these processes and procedures, but also diversity training through the Wichita State Office of Diversity and Inclusion.”

Cutler did not answer The Sunflower’s question about who authorized Wu to be at the event and did not respond to a request to speak further on the issue.