DU student government proposal seeks to fast-track new mascot, marginalize Boone; vote tonight
(Image via LetsGoDU.)
Following up on my post yesterday about the re-ignited controversy surrounding the University of Denver’s former/unofficial mascot, Denver Boone, here are some new important details about tonight’s student-government “Boone ban” proposal, from an article by Sarah Ford in this morning’s DU Clarion:
Tonight the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) will discuss a resolution proposing banning use of club and student activity funding by campus clubs to purchase materials with the image of the Denver Boone mascot.
A student and faculty “task force” formed by student Will Guy and led by Student Body President Sam Estenson has also begun to examine the possibility of instituting a new, official university mascot by next year.
Estenson said the resolution, which will be discussed tonight, proposes that student organizations have 30 days after the implementation of a new official university mascot to phase out all funding for items with Boone’s image.
I added bold text to emphasize two crucial points.
First, the scope of the proposal. Obviously, student government cannot ban alumni funding of an unofficial mascot. Nor, it seems, is there an effort by USG to, for instance, convince the university administration to banish the Boone costume from Magness Arena (again, assuming the Clarion's reporting is accurate). Instead, this sounds like a fairly modest step. The article notes that “USG already has an unspoken agreement against making any purchases of merchandise with Boone’s image…[but] each organization can currently decide how to spend the money stipulated to them through the student activity fee.” This would change that, based on the theory that, in Estenson’s words, “The student organization money comes from everyone, it is not appropriate for everyone to pay when some of those purchases can be hurtful.”
Second, the timing of the proposal. As I mentioned yesterday, a central criticism of the anti-Boone forces has been that they want to eliminate Boone and replace him with…nothing. But this proposal — again, if the Clarion's reporting is accurate — would seemingly take no action against Boone until after a new, official mascot is designated.
What might that mascot look like?
According to Guy, the task force has also started hearing ideas for a new mascot as well, though they are not making any official suggestions at this point. He said they have had suggestions for images such as an astronaut, gold miner, an ox and an elk.
“We want to find something funny and fun, not too offensive,” said Guy. “There becomes an inherent problem with a human-based mascot. You make him look a certain way, and automatically a group will find it offensive.”
The meeting to discuss this resolution is 6pm tonight on campus. I wish I could go, report and take pictures, but alas, I can’t — fatherhood comes before blogging on this occasion. It sounds like there will be quite a ruckus, though, and as I said yesterday, I’ll try to RT any updates about what happens on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the politics of this are fascinating. Student Body President Sam Estenson was elected narrowly last year. He’s a junior, and I’m told he is expected to run for re-election in the spring. This will surely become a political lightning rod for him.
As for the substance of the issue, I confess I’m still slightly unclear on precisely what is considered offensive about Boone. Is it merely his name, and the link — actual or perceived — to Daniel Boone? (If so, why not keep the mascot but change his name to Pioneer Pete?) Or is it his image, as Estenson suggests? (If so, what about the image is offensive? I really haven’t seen that articulated yet.) Or is it the entire concept of venerating 1800s-era “Pioneers,” and all the baggage that comes with that? (If so, isn’t the logical conclusion of this anti-Boone movement to change DU’s nickname, not just its mascot?)
I’m not certain that the anti-Boone forces are wrong on the merits, but I’m quite certain they aren’t articulating their message very well. The arguments I’m hearing are simply not going to convince a broad swath of the public (or even, I’d imagine, the student body) that Boone must go. If Boone’s opponents have a valid argument — and they well may — they need to do a better job making that case, rather than just preaching to the converted in a sort of circular diversity-speak that sounds like P.C. mumbo-jumbo to the outside world. For instance:
The task force has recently prepared an official mission statement. It reads, “We as a student task force are here because there is no mascot around which students can rally that accurately reflects the University of Denver and its identities, beliefs, traditions and what it means to be a pioneer. We shall facilitate the selection of a mascot that empowers, inspires and celebrates the diversity of the University of Denver community. Remembering our history, while pioneering our future, the new mascot will be implemented by a rebranding of University of Denver merchandise and marketing.”
I have no idea what any of that means, and neither does anyone else. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
There are also tons of unanswered questions inherent in just about every statement I see from a Boone opponent. For instance, take these quotes from the Clarion piece, with my italicized annotations:
“There is a large number of students in the DU community who don’t understand the history of Boone. [What history?] The idea [whose idea?] is that Native American history is being marginalized,” said Estenson. [How? Perhaps this is true, but it isn’t self-evident. Please explain.] “People argue that the image is cute, that it was drawn by Disney. But the image is unacceptable.” [Why?] …
“I understand why students enjoy Boone, but I genuinely believe that if students understood imagery behind Boone, they would not continue to use him,” said Estenson. [What imagery? What don’t students understand? Tell us!] “The senate has reached a point where we feel it is time to say we will not support him anymore. Yes he is part of our history, but that DU is not the DU we attend anymore.” [How so? What does this mean?] …
“I don’t want people to forget our past. But one of the biggest things at this school is redefining what it means to be a Pioneer. [What does it mean? And what does this mascot business have to do with that? Please elaborate!] It is important where we come from, but what is more important is where we are going,” said Guy. [Huh?]
It may sound like I’m #trollin, but I’m genuinely curious about the answers to these questions. Again, I am not necessarily certain that the anti-Boone folks are wrong. But if they’re right, they aren’t articulating why! They’re just asserting, not explaining or pursuading.
Above all, Boone’s opponents need to avoid falling back on the abjectly ridiculous notion that if anyone is offended, for any reason, then Boone obviously must go. Again and again, this comes up in quotes and in comment threads where Boone is discussed. Sorry, guys, but that attitude is pure unintentional self-parody, and while it might pass for intelligent discourse in some undergraduate circles, it’s actually risible nonsense. The anti-Boone folks need to do better, if they want to win this argument through persuasion rather than mere legislative force.
In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens tonight. Based on the Clarion article, as well as what pro-Boone alum Damien Goddard is writing at the LetsGoDU fan blog, it sounds like the USG vote itself is a foregone conclusion, and the question becomes “What then?” Goddard sounds resigned to defeat — surprisingly so, to my ears, given the limited scope of the resolution, but perhaps he sees the writing on the wall. He writes:
Boone’s had an amazing run since 2008. Tons of great memories and friendships made throughout the process.
Many, many people contributed to Boone’s success including students, alumni and fans.
No doubt we gave it our all and Boone is leaving on top. The Harlem Shake video was epic.
Turbulent days lie ahead. I just can’t imagine the possible repercussions will transpire.
Whatever mascot they choose is doomed for failure. The old adage in sports is, “Never follow a Legend.”
Boone became legend at DU.
Boone’s next major event, I believe, would naturally be Denver’s game against New Mexico State on Saturday, which Boone has been promoting. I’ll be there for that. It should be interesting, as should the upcoming crazy four-game weekend at Magness. I also hear Boone will be in Vegas for the WAC title game on March 16 if Denver gets that far.
UPDATE: Another commenter at LetsGoDU, “UDenver20,” responds to Goddard:
What will change if the USG vote passes:
- Boone’s chance at being “official” will greatly decrease.
- Boone’s university funding will go from $0 to $0.
What won’t change:
- His usage by students and alumni will continue.
- He’ll still be unofficial.
- He’ll still have a huge following.
- He’ll still end up being the favorite of the student body.
- He still won’t be “owned” by UGS.
- He’ll still be the face of student spirit.
People need to stop talking in the past tense as if this vote will actually have an adverse impact on Boone’s presence.
Again, NOTHING will change for Boone unless DU is going to go thermonuclear and attempt to retract the Chancellor’s well-documented abdication of the [intellectual property] associated with using his likeness and/or [athletic director] Peg [Bradley-Doppes] issues an edict that only official mascots can be at our events… two hugely bad ideas if they (a) care about their ASCEND [fundraising] campaign and (b) don’t want to lose the momentum they’ve gained in student support for athletics.
That seems right to me, for what it’s worth. Only if Boone is actually banned from Magness Arena does this really go nuclear, at least for the time being.
Meanwhile on Facebook, a pretty good conversation between Puck Swami and Steve Fisher expresses some of the points that I’ve been pondering:
Steve: There are actually two different issues - Boone and Pioneers. If Boone is dropped the next decision point will be keeping Pioneers or not…..
Puck: I can understand dropping Native American nicknames and mascots out of respect for the minority, if those cultures feel denigrated. But dropping Pioneers would be a whole new level of political correctness, where the majority would drop its name. Can you see Oklahoma dropping Sooners, Wyoming dropping the Cowboys or Texas Tech dropping the Red Raiders if minority factions on their campuses were unhappy?
Steve: The problem would be coming up with a Pioneer mascot that was not part of western expansion. I suppose astronauts are pioneers, or even scientists, but how do you make that a good mascot image????
Puck: Therein lies the great disconnect that anyone will face if they try to ‘update’ the Pioneer. In this part of the country, 90% of people hear or see Pioneer and they think Western Pioneer. If you stray from that, you end up with horrible birds like Ruckus. There have been other colleges who have Pioneer Dogs (Lewis and Clark College) and even a Pioneer Moose (Utica College). Most people see those and get confused.