UPDATED: Survey reignites ‘Pioneers’ and mascot relevance at DU

The University of Denver established ‘Pioneers’ as its nickname in some 92 years ago in 1925. Denver’s unofficial mascot, Denver Boone, is coming up on 50 years old next year. Some students and faculty believe now is the time to reevaluate the relevance and social acceptability of both images.

It’s clear that opponents to the status quo see the nickname ‘Pioneers’ and Denver’s mascot image as deeply intertwined and both may be subject to change. One example is an individual student’s survey called ‘Campus Identity – University of Denver’ which has been developed to explore the topic. It is neither sponsored by the university administration nor is it directly associated with current University of Student Government (USG) efforts to limit the use of Denver’s unofficial mascot, Denver Boone.

Many of the current participants who have reignited the call to action were not around when the University of Denver attempted to put in place a new mascot (the options were an elk, a jackalope and a mountain climber). That effort was shelved due to student, alumni, and public outcry. Specifically, a vast majority of stakeholders preferred either the status quo of keeping the unofficial mascot Denver Boone or full reinstatement of Denver Boone, a cartoon figure developed by Disney Studios. Since that time, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) passed a bill on Feb. 27, 2013 which stopped student organizations from using USG funding for items that include the Denver Boone image. And, over time, there have been various discussions and actions to restrict Denver Boone even further around campus and at the University of Denver sponsored events.

In a recently published article, Viki Eagle, Director of Native American Community Partnerships and Programs at DU, cited that the Pioneer nickname “puts Native Americans off.” The past University Student Government (USG) election at DU featured student candidates who voiced the need to develop a culturally sensitive mascot – Denver Boone is seen as representative of an oppressive move west by largely European settlers. Supporters of Denver Boone are seen (maybe unfairly) as privileged and unaware of the impact of European settlers on indigenous people.

The other side of the coin is that Pioneers (noun) of many backgrounds and nationalities were among the first to formally settle and develop the city of Denver and establish the University of Denver. Then, there are Pioneers (verb) which implies being a risk taker, an innovator, or explorer. The elimination of historical symbols is seen by this group as a denial of Denver’s obvious roots, especially bringing higher education to the West as the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain west. Proponents bristle at the thought that Pioneers should be erased from the history books based solely on hostility between western settlers and Native Americans – while ignoring the positive contributions by Pioneers who developed a great city and a world class university. Finally, proponents believe all cultures should be celebrated instead of taking away long-held traditions and symbols, buoyed by positive intent.

The individual student’s survey allows for feedback from students, parents, friends and alumni. If this is an issue that you feel strongly about, we encourage you to take this brief survey and voice your opinion. The link is below: 

Survey – Campus Identity – University of Denver

There are 23 US colleges and universities that use the Pioneer nickname.

*Please note that the survey does not give an option to retain or reinstate Denver Boone. If you believe he should be reinstated, there is an  ‘other’ choice and a space for comments.

**The survey does not ask if you are a regular supporter of DU athletics. There is a comment section at the end where you can add your level of involvement with DU athletics.


Separate from the individual student survey, the 2016-2017 USG recently passed the following resolution: 

Whereas,  Boone is no longer The University of Denver’s official mascot

Whereas, the representation of Boone does not fit the University of Denver’s ideals

Whereas, the university has intentions to discontinue the usage of Boone in any capacity

Whereas, student organizations continue to use Boone in their advertisements, organization profiles, and social media

Whereas, USG passed a resolution in 2013 that prohibited student organizations to use USG funding to purchase merchandise with Boone’s image

Whereas, the 2013 resolution was unclear and only banned the usage of Boone for merchandise after a new mascot was approved

Whereas, USG is leading an initiate to adopt a new official mascot for the University of Denver

Be it resolved, the Undergraduate Student Government re-affirms that the governing body does not support Boone; and,

Be it further resolved, student organizations at the University of Denver are not permitted to use Boone’s likeness in any capacity, including advertisements, organization profiles, and social media

Be it further resolved, student organizations that use the image of Boone following this resolution will be subject to possible disciplinary action at the discretion of the Student Organizations Committee and the Finance Committee.