- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

DENVER | Many universities have come under pressure to reject their American Indian mascots, but in what may be a first, the University of Denver has ditched a non-Indian mascot on the grounds he wasn’t sufficiently diverse.

A university committee gave the final axing in October to “Denver Boone,” better known as Boone, a portly, chubby-cheeked cartoon character in a coonskin cap who represented the University of Denver Pioneers from 1968 to 1998.

“The old Boone figure is one that does not reflect the broad diversity of the DU community and is not an image that many of today’s women, persons of color, international students and faculty and others can easily relate to as defining the pioneering spirit,” Chancellor Robert Coombe said.

Boone, drawn by Walt Disney in 1968, was shelved in 1998 for his “lack of gender inclusiveness and the changing image of the university,” according to the student newspaper, the Clarion.

Students and alumni have lobbied to bring back Boone ever since. A university survey taken earlier this year in response to a resurgent “bring back Boone” movement showed that 87 percent of student and alumni respondents held a favorable opinion of the pudgy pioneer and wanted to see his return.

The university put the mascot question last year before its History and Traditions Task Force, which decided to shelve Boone permanently after critics argued that he represented an era of Western imperialism and was offensive to women and minority groups.

“The name ‘Boone’ is linked to Daniel Boone, and to people of Native American ancestry, it’s sensitive because he was part of a movement that pushed Native Americans to the side,” said Monica Kumar, president of the undergraduate student body.

“We are a university that has been very sensitive to diversity and one of our objectives is to be inclusive,” said Miss Kumar, who sits on the committee. “And this was an opportunity for us to come together and show our inclusiveness.”

Mike Rosen, a DU alumnus and Denver radio talk-show host and commentator, called the decision “annoying but not surprising.”

“It’s an example of the hyper-sensitive, politically correct epidemic in higher education as well as secondary education,” said Mr. Rosen, who was not involved in the movement to resurrect Boone. “Are they going to do away with the name ‘pioneer?’ I would think that would be at least as offensive as the mascot.”

Boone’s foes agreed that the name “pioneer” was a problem, but they hope to redefine the term by moving the focus away from the early settlers who crossed the American West in the 1800s.

“We see ‘pioneer’ as moving forward in the world and making a positive mark on history as opposed to the traditional definition of ‘pioneer,’” Miss Kumar said.

As for the charge of political correctness, she said, “It’s not a matter of being politically incorrect when it’s truly something that offends people.”

At first, the university replaced Boone with a red-tailed hawk named Ruckus, but he failed to catch on with alumni and students. More recently, the university has used the name “Denver” shaped in an arch to symbolize the school in publications and at sporting events.

The university’s decision hasn’t yet caught on with other schools. In a similar case, the University of Massachusetts, after a public row over the diversity and gun-control implications of naming its teams the Minutemen, decided in 2003 to keep its mascot.

In early 2007, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., also nicknamed the Pioneers, went in the other direction, unveiling a new mascot named “Big Red,” a 6-foot-7, red-headed, buckskin-wearing frontiersman who looks like a bigger version of Boone.

Miss Kumar called Big Red “incredibly offensive, like if you took an Asian mascot and called it ‘Big Yellow.’”

Sacred Heart officials were unapologetic about the decision to add a Daniel Boone-style mascot.

“When Sacred Heart University was founded in 1963, it charted a new direction within American Catholicism, as the very first university to be led and staffed by the laity,” said Sacred Heart spokeswoman Funda Alp. “Our mascot, Big Red, embodies this pioneering spirit that we proudly embrace. Big Red’s name and red hair were inspired by our school color, red.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association prohibits schools with Indian mascots from hosting championship games, unless the university carries a specific tribal name and the tribe supports the use of its name. The organization has no policy on non-Indian mascots.

Mr. Rosen had another suggestion.

“If Native Americans in fact or prospectively might be opposed to the name ‘pioneer,’ why not just call ourselves the Indians?” the Denver alumnus said. “And if that’s not acceptable, then why not? I think that’s what they call an imponderable.”

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