Controversy swirls around Denver’s unofficial mascot
The University of Denver’s once-and-future(?) mascot, Denver Boone — “retired” in 1998, almost “un-retired” in 2008 but then officially rejected amid controversy, only to be revived starting in 2009 as an unofficial, alumni-funded mascot, and now an increasingly visible presence at DU events in recent years — is under fire again, and apparently faces something of a moment of truth tomorrow.
I don’t have the time, inclination or knowledge to recount the entire history of the controversy here, but Wikipedia provides an overview of Boone’s history, and Westword summarizes the controversy. Suffice it to say that, in recent years, some DU students and others have objected to Boone, either because they perceive him as an unacceptable reference to Daniel Boone (a link which I believe Boone supporters deny) and the killing of Native Americans by the, ahem, “pioneers” of that historic period; or, more broadly, because they perceive him as not sufficiently representing the “diversity” of the modern DU community. On the other side, Boone supporters say he is a harmless and inoffensive Disney-designed cartoon character, he does not represent anything divisive, he is a traditional symbol of DU (he was the official mascot from 1968-1998), and so forth. They also point out that Denver would be mascot-less without Boone — the administration’s effort to impose a weird-looking amorphous bird-thing as a mascot largely failed — and thus insist that, in the interest of school spirit, the anti-Boone forces should first propose an alternative mascot before they demand that Boone be eliminated.
An uneasy truce, or at least cease-fire, has resulted in Boone — whose social media pages refer to him as DU’s “official student mascot,” with an emphasis on adjective student, sort of like how the Stanford Tree is the official mascot of the band, not of the school — becoming increasingly visible, especially this school year. Even as recently as last year, there seemed to be a lot more ambiguity about whether Boone’s presence was tacitly endorsed, tacitly disapproved, or what, by the administration. On one or two occasions, information about Boone’s planned whereabouts was shared with me with certain conditions related to disclosure because of concerns about how the administration would respond. But Boone has become ever more frequently and freely present (including at DebateFest before the Obama-Romney debate, for instance), and the school’s tacit approval has seemingly become clearer, right down to the new mural on the wall at Magness Arena that prominently features a picture of Boone along with various other images of DU athletics.
The incident occurred around 1:30 p.m. [on February 15], when a group of students who had a permit to use the area outside the Driscoll Student Center began filming their video with someone dressed up as Boone, Ames says. … “Campus safety was contacted about three students who became pretty confrontational” in their protests of the not-mascot; the three students were offered alternatives as to where they could publicly protest, but became confrontational with campus security as well before finally leaving, Ames continues, then adds: “Our campus safety is not aware of any complains about the way it was handled.”
But there was at least one complaint. In a letter to Westword, one of the protestors writes, “The students were physically shoved out of the perimeter even though they were also members of the university. They were also told that their organization was not allowed to be at the event.”
The letter writer went on to say that Boone is a racist mascot and that “this sort of discrimination needs to be addressed and cannot go shoved under the carpet.”
Ames says this is the first she’s heard of any protests over Boone since 2008, but since Boone just started his own Facebook page and Twitter account as part of a new effort to get himself reinstated, she’s likely to hear more soon.
The DU Clarion has more:
The beginning of the event was delayed by the presence of three DU Native Student Alliance (NSA) members, Jose Guerrero, a junior sociology major, Amanda Wilson, junior psychology major and Julia Bramante, junior chemistry major, who attended the event to protest the presentation of Boone as the DU mascot.
“The main cause of this was to bring up the fact that we should not be bringing Boone back into the picture when we are trying to move past him as our mascot,” said Wilson, who said that Boone “does not represent an inclusive campus climate.”
According to Wilson, the event was not an official NSA event, but that all three students were NSA members. The ultimate goal, according to Guerrero, was to appear in the video, not halt its production.
“We did not try to stop the video from being filmed, we just wanted to be in it,” said Guerrero. “We figured they would have let our point of view in the video since part of the DU community share this point of view, but instead we were asked to leave and then physically forced to leave.”
According to Guerrero, the three students were escorted away by Campus Safety officers from the protest and stopped from re-approaching the video after a confrontation between the participants and the protestors.
According to the DCS Daily Incident report, the students were escorted away after “interfering with the event” and becoming “confrontational.”
Guerrero said that while they tried to “reason with” the filmmakers and guards, the guards were “rude and disrespectful” and used “excess force” on the shoulders and arms of the students during the incident. Guerrero, Wilson and Bramante left of their own accord after being blocked from re-approaching by DCS officers.
DCS Public Information officer Sgt. Banet said the policy surrounding use of force in escorting students is use of “reasonable necessary force.”
Megan Pendley Pickett and Carl Johnson, director of student activities and executive director of campus life, respectively, said that DCS is alerted on events that are expected to draw large crowds, although they could not speak to the specific incident.
[Sophomore Alex Hess, who filmed the video] said that their only request [of] the protestors was to move for the first scene of the video.
“We told them that once we filmed the first scene with just one person, they were more than welcome to come join in the second scene. Instead they refused to move away from the camera completely, and one member of the NSA even accused me of being a racist, which personally, being a Jew who has dealt with anti-Semitism in my life before and has worked hard to support all races and creeds, was a little disturbing and somewhat hurtful,” said Hess.
Guerrero said that the issue is centered on education about the Native student struggle.
“We watched the video and overall we thinks it depicts a fake image of the culture at the university. It ignores the struggle that our people have been through since the 1990’s when Boone was originally eradicated,” said Guerrero.
“We were really bothered by the amount of attention focused on Boone in the video. …This form of propaganda is the reason why a large proportion of the student body continues to ignore the racial symbolism that is attached to Boone and continue to support his existence.”
On February 20, the Lets Go DU fan blog reported that “DU Student Government Plans To Condemn Boone.” The site obviously takes a pro-Boone editorial stance, as you’ll see:
Last night the University of Denver Undergraduate Student Government discussed the Boone mascot issue at the University of Denver. In 60 days the DU Student Senate would like to “pass a motion officially condemning Boone and stop all funding that supports anything with the Boone image.” The student committee would prefer no mascot but left open the possibility of one day finding a new mascot.
The current Boone mascot was 100% funded and built by alumni, fan & student donations. The mascot was presented as a gift to the DU student body to promote school spirit on campus and make DU sporting events more fun.
In the past five years through private donations, Boone has traveled to DU sporting events in Boston, Madison, Minneapolis, Baltimore [twice] and Washington DC. Two DU students have been sent to Mascot Boot Camp in Delaware & Pennsylvania. Over $50,000 has been spent through alumni donations to fund the program.
The money spent by the alumni on Boone meant that no student activity or DU Athletic Department dollars were ever spent on Boone. The money was all raised privately.
The USG wants to take away the students unofficial mascot and replace it with —- nothing. Doesn’t seem like much of a plan.
I trust LetsGoDU, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the proposed student-government “condemnation,” since no source was given, and few details offered, regarding USG’s “plans.” But it now appears the Boone condemnation is definitely real, and has been fast-tracked. It seems USG is set to take up the issue tomorrow, February 26, according to a statement posted this evening on Boone’s Facebook page:
Hello Fellow Pioneers. Tomorrow, the USG is planning on passing a “Boone Resolution” bill, a bill that if passed will make it clear that Boone is not a viable option for a school mascot. However, there is no immediate replacement in place for a mascot. Should DU students look for a replacement for Boone that satisfies ALL parties? Of course. But Boone should not be tabled and condemned until a better replacement is found; a replacement that can defeat Boone in an open and fair election of the entire student body. After all, ALL of the 5,000+ students and members of the DU community deserve a say in who represents them, and should Boone win or lose in a fair campus wide election, so be it. If you are against the passing of this bill to occur tomorrow, a member of the “Boone Squad” (The organization in charge of keeping Boone on campus) will be in front of Sturm Hall tomorrow collecting signatures in favor of delaying this bill until a better representation of a mascot has been decided on to compete against Boone. To show your support, attend the USG meeting tomorrow night at 6 PM in Driscoll Underground to let your fellow students know that there is a strong support of students in favor of keeping Boone, at least until a replacement is not only already established, but wanted instead of Boone.
I wish I could attend the meeting to report on what happens, but I’m on kid duty tomorrow evening, so I can’t go. I’ll certainly RT any news over at @MileHighMids, though.
Full disclosure: I’m friendly with one of the students who wears the Boone outfit. He’s a nice dude. More broadly, I like Boone. He makes Denver games more fun and promotes school spirit, which DU needs more of (particularly as it relates to basketball), not less. Having said that, I also don’t think concerns about the most aggressively un-PC mascots can just be dismissed out of hand (particularly by fiat of white males) as always being much ado about nothing. I’m sympathetic with the view satirically expressed by Hugh Blumenfeld in that regard — just crying “but it’s tradition!” isn’t enough to justify keeping something genuinely offensive. However, it’s not clear to me whether Boone qualifies as genuinely offensive. As of yet, I haven’t heard a particularly compelling argument that he does, maybe apart from his name. (One proposal that I’ve seen floated online, which makes some sense to me: keep the character, but rename him “Pioneer Pete,” which is itself traditional, and would seem to eliminate a lot of the objections to Boone.) This isn’t the Tomahawk chop, or Chief Illiniwek, or the Fighting Sioux. This feels like more of a grey area.
So I’m frankly not sure what position I take, intellectually. Emotionally, I am rooting for Boone. (Like I said, full disclosure.)