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.

*****UPDATE*****UPDATE*****UPDATE*****UPDATE*****

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.

26 thoughts on “UPDATED: Survey reignites ‘Pioneers’ and mascot relevance at DU”

  1. Thanks for posting. I have no right to tell or ask anyone how to respond but I am certainly allowed to discuss my response. Yes, I want to keep Boone and Pioneers forever. If BOONE was spelled BOON, would there still be a fuss. My gosh, it’s a fictional character. As for Pioneers, it’s such a positive nickname. Chancellor Chopp, MLK, Christopher Columbus, authors of the Constitution of the United States, Einstein, the first astronauts, and Dr. Jonas Salk are on my list of Pioneers. I do hope all who respond will do so in a respectful and mature manner.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there, I’m writing as the instructor of the student who authored this survey. As the survey itself clearly indicates, the survey is part of a student’s research project for a course here at DU. The survey is not official in any capacity, and has no connection to DU’s USG, or to the resolution mentioned in the “update” at the bottom of the article. Your “update” also makes it seem like there is a connection between the resolution mentioned and the survey, when there is none. I would like to ask you to please revise your article to correctly contextualize the survey, or omit the reference to the survey.

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    1. Hi Anon,

      I’m hoping you can pass this along to your student – I’m someone who has been involved in the Bring Back Boone campaign in the past, and having had more time (and maturity) to consider things, wanted to pass my thoughts along as an alum:

      Unfortunately, there really is no good way to resolve this issue – too much has been said and too many mistakes have been made for DU to arrive at a solution that makes most people happy.

      For better or worse, Boone is a historic mascot for the university. Decades of alumni identify with the logo – marginalizing the university’s history by effectively renouncing Boone’s existence is a sure-fire way to upset alumni, who the school relies upon for fundraising, amongst other things. Like it or not for individuals who find Boone painful, there is still a valid argument for keeping Boone, and an even more valid argument for keeping the Pioneers moniker. Decades of students (now alumni) and their experience simply cannot be ignored when current students attempt to change the university’s branding.

      However, Boone cuts a controversial figure for a number of reasons. Whether Boone-backers like it or not (or agree with it or not), Boone has evoked the history of Daniel Boone, who killed many Native Americans. Sure, this is a cartoon character drawn by Disney, but it’s rather moronic to argue that a character named Boone can’t possibly be connected to a famous American historical figure. The entire Pioneer movement westward occurred with disastrous effects for the Native American population, and part of the DU community views Boone in the same light as some North Dakota tribes viewed the Sioux moniker. Other groups contend that the logo fails to visibly represent women and students of color as well. Again, that’s valid – it’s hard to look at a fairly obviously masculine-looking mascot and say “nah, that represents women just fine!” The nature of any mascot that has a human origin – a pioneer, a leprechaun, a cowboy, etc. – is that, ultimately, that nickname and mascot cannot possibly represent everyone. At a certain point, a logo and a mascot outfit would have to be developed, and it’s remarkably difficult to design something that is so androgynous that it could passably represent any gender, race, or cultural history.
      A vocal group of students and (presumably) alumni would like to create a representation that can…well, represent everyone. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many universities are able to do this easily because their moniker is an animal – a duck, buffalo, tiger, lion, tree, etc. Inherent to these monikers and mascots: Questions of cultural origin, religious connotations and gender are rendered immaterial. No rational student, alumni or employee could logically look at a badger, for instance, and claim that its presence negatively portrays any human. That would be the height of absurdity.

      In fact, the athletics department did try to rebrand and move DU forward, away from the Boone controversy with Ruckus. However, setting aside the “We’re just doing this and there’s nothing you can say to stop us” behavior that the department exhibited, there was another absolutely glaring flaw in their decision making (and had they perhaps consulted any marketing professor and cared enough to listen – which this athletics department almost never does – they may have found some wise words of caution). The change was so tepid that it inspired no positivity from the community. It did nothing but create confusion and damage relationships with the community. The pioneer nickname could stay, but all visual branding to that effect had to go. Not only did it have to go, but it was essentially scrubbed from existence on campus. So, from an alumni’s perspective, the administration remove a beloved mascot, and tried to make things ok by keeping the name, but representing that name with a thing that wasn’t even a pioneer! From the viewpoint of groups that had been advocating for the move away from Boone, the move wasn’t enough – the pioneer moniker (and the Manifest Destiny history they came to see it represent) was intact, and the PR/community campaign to debut the new mascot was not nearly strong enough to get students, alumni and staff excited, much less to adopt it.

      Curiously, I have not seen objections raised around the nation to other white male-type mascots. The Purdue Boilermakers, for instance, have a mascot who is clearly a white male. The Michigan State Spartans, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and more have logos that are quite evidently white male figures. I haven’t seen this level of concern over these mascots to this point. Now, perhaps objections to these mascots is percolating on campuses across America, but I simply have yet to see it.

      What truly frustrates me is that it seems like the process to try to replace the mascot, or to rebrand the school, is done so archaically that it engenders no creativity. USG and the administration run everything, and small committees without much of any creativity in them debate names, mascot types, etc. How in the world can an institution with the marketing and business connections the DU has NOT have a better way to engage graphic designers on campus to come up with better work?
      Further, when groups that claim that Boone/Pioneers marginalize them come forward and decry the logo, why is no solution presented? Perhaps I’m a little too “old school” in my thinking, but I was raised such that if I saw something I didn’t like, when I brought the issue up, I also had an idea for what to do about it. It is far more productive to suggest alternatives and come up with ideas than it is to, essentially, stand on a pedestal and say “Anyone who supports Boone is wrong, this is a horrible mascot and Pioneers represent a dark chapter in American history” and simply end there. You’ve identified a problem – that’s fine. Now help be a part of the solution. Don’t simply lay the issue in someone else’s lap and say “now it’s your responsibility to figure out something that will please me.” Actively work to develop the solution, don’t simply mandate that you be consulted and asked for approval of solutions someone else has to come up with!

      So, what would I like to see done? I think the best solution is a complete DU rebrand. I love the Pioneer nickname, but I see the trouble it causes. I’m for a rebrand as long as it’s done with full force and vigor – we’ve seen what great design can do for universities like Oregon and Baylor. There’s no reason that that kind of design acumen cannot be successful here and energize the entire DU community. Make it an open competition to create awesome design concepts, with a few guidelines. No mascot/logo can rely on any human/role/title. Then let the community go to work creating a moniker and visual identity that people will actually LIKE. Further, ensure that any jerseys, merchandise, and other branding elements still has nods to DU’s past. Don’t “whitewash” the history that alumni find valuable. Take it along with the new moniker, mascot, etc. Incorporate it, but don’t make it a focus. Will it be hard to convince alumni? Absolutely. But it’s a whole lot easier to convince alumni when they’ve had their chance to make something awesome-looking that it is to just lay a new identity on them and say “here you go, you have no choice, take it or leave it.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Pioneer nickname has been around for 85 years and for much of that time, we’ve had a western pioneer to represent our school as a mascot. What brand equity we have at DU is in that brand name and it’s clear connection to the western Pioneers that founded the school, the city and state. It’s also represents the wider pioneer spirit of reinvention and western mythology that many out of staters come to Denver to embrace, and it’s a name that makes a lot of sense to most people who don’t know our school. To move away from that would be crazy for DU – it would be a slap in the face to all of the alumni who share in that heritage, origins and pride, and to athletes who have spilled their blood for the Pioneers.

        Most people want mascots and a collegiate athletic identity that connects us to previous generations of alumni and fans, and all the nostalgia and tradition that go with that, so that we all share something in common. A new forward-looking nickname would kill all that tradition and connection. It would be akin to Wyoming or Oklahoma State abandoning the Cowboys nickname, or Oklahoma abandoning the Sooners, and if it happened at DU, it would be a devastating on so many levels – athletics, tickets, sponsorship, brand, financial. donations, alumni relations and school pride. Losing the Pioneer nickname would cause an uproar that would be a humiliating national story instantly from which DU might never recover…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the note, anon. We will be sure to cite that the survey is not ‘official’ or connected to the USG efforts. Thanks for the feedback on this. We will make revisions and if we still are missing the point, please advise.

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  4. Stop the ridiculousness. DU would be wise to stay out of this (maybe they are?). As I am guessing that the vast majority of alumni who really care about DU, support DU (athletically and otherwise), and contribute to DU. think that this manufactured “conflict” is lunacy. Boone and the name “Pioneers” is not offensive whatsover. Yeah, screw those brave people that set out west and settled our country, allowed DU to exist in the first place, etc. Just a bunch of racists! Good grief.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The fact is that DU has blown its public credibility on official mascots, with the last 20 years of screw-ups to show for it.

    Shall we count the mistakes?

    1) A majority would say that DU first erred in 1998 when it dropped Denver Boone without any DU community input.

    2) The second mistake was instituting the vile red-tailed hawk logo and Ruckus (1999-2007), a top-down, no-public-input failure that didn’t link to the Pioneer nickname and caused future DU brand erosion.

    3) Chancellor Coombe made things worse in 2008, with his ham-handed letter that made assertions about Boone being polarizing without any data to back it up and not allowing a vote on Boone.

    4) DU made things even worse with the so-called 2013 mascot “election,” which also did not include Boone and died in embarrassing, public failure.

    Given how horrible DU has performed on this issue over the last 20 years, inaction is the optimum strategy for the University right now.

    DU is a much more fragile place than many believe, and much of the fragility comes from its financial reality. DU does not have a $37 billion endowment as Harvard does, or a $22 billion endowment as Stanford does. DU’s endowment is only $600 million or so and school is still 70% dependent on tuition revenue for its daily survival, with philanthropy vital for most of the the rest of its revenue stream.

    With a new capital campaign coming soon, DU would be smart to avoid anther draining and divisive mascot process.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Message to DU student snowflakes: Get over yourselves. Put on your big boy pants and come out of your “safe” zone.

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    1. As soon as you start throwing out crutch-level charged phrases like “snowflakes” and “safe zone,” the argument ends. Come on, elevate the level of debate here!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Time to can the outdated moniker and “mascot”. Alumni are alumni, old and outdated like the “pioneer” name. New/current students should be allowed to chart their future, and not abide by old, inherited baggage of the past. does certain alumni not have something better to do than continue to live in the past and attempt to intimidate college kids? You had your say, time to let it go. DU is an outstanding institution, and the name “Pioneer” has very little to do with that. Moving on from the current moniker/mascot will not “be devastating on so many levels”.
    Message to alumni/campus bullies – “let this sleeping dog lie”, “put on your big boy pants”, and try making your beloved DU proud by doing something truly productive with your lives. Unfortunately DU’s credibility takes a bigger hit when middle aged men from DU make this the biggest battle of their lives…get over it.

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    1. You obviously don’t value the importance of collegiate athletic tradition and school identity.

      We do.

      And we find fighting for our school traditions to be enormously important.

      Is the Fighting Irish nickname outdated? On the face of it, some might say it is. But do you think Notre Dame is going to suddenly jettison that 100+ year old nickname for diversity reasons or because some current students might want a different one? Of course not. It’s part of their mystique and they’d be throwing away a billion dollar brand if they got rid of it. Not to mention their sense of shared experience over time that creates engagement, loyalty, emotional bonds and financial support that are the life blood of sustaining any university.

      Why do you think Universities use a 500+ year old tradition of cap and gowns on graduation day? Certainly there are more current and fashionable clothes to wear these days, but most graduates can’t wait to put theirs on to participate in a tradition — because it is symbolic and it has tradition and meaning attached to it.

      I think most students want to be connected with a tradition that spans the test of time, and so that they share something in common with older grads, and so their own families to come could someday share similar experiences. Athletic traditions are built over time on consistency of shared experience, and are built on nostalgia/looking backward, not on current student fads, diversity screeds or just current student wishes.

      I think most DU students, alumni and sports fans value the Pioneers quite highly, and I’d be willing to bet you that they would vote for it against any alternative, in big numbers, if given the chance.

      As for new/current students charting their own future, how often would DU be required to change mascots/nickname/traditions to be in keeping with “current” student preferences? Every year? Every four years? And how would this preference be determined? If current students were actually allowed to vote for their true preference today, I have every confidence that the majority would actually choose “pioneers”.

      In any case, everybody matters in a university community. The students matter, but so do the alumni, the faculty, and the sports fans. We all play important roles in our university’s future, and all of our opinions count.

      It is you who are the are the bully if you think only current students should the primary voice on this issue…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am a Denver native. I did not attend DU. However, DU is the University of my hometown. I don’t recall any input from the community either.
    DU is the only school I know that has a nickname without any visual representation. Sure, it has the DU logo, but nothing for the Pioneer.

    No school wants a logo they are ashamed to show, but how hard can it be showing Boone in positive activities showing Pioneer spirit and pride.
    From what I’ve read, Boone was a huge hit in Chicago during the Frozen Four and in no way was a detriment to DU or the City of Denver.
    The school is also losing out on a boatload of money from merchandise sales just to pacify a bunch of snowflakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Having attended DU’s hockey semis and finals in Chicago, at times it appeared to me that a lot of alumni, I assume, were more concerned with promoting Boone than the DU team itself, which I think is sad. The University of Denver hockey team won the national championship, not Boone.

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  10. I think in Chicago it was ultimately about promoting the team and the school. Yep there were some Boone posters and of course the Mega Boone banner–but those are the things that get the most attention on TV when they are showing the DU crowd in the stands. (Only the most crafty were able to get their Boone posters into the arena.) Wearing Boone stuff, etc. is just a way to express support and pride for DU. What are the odds that ANY of the few folks and niche professors who are against the Boone mascot have ever been to a hockey game, much less traveled across the country to a Frozen Four? I’m thinking zero odds on that one. The people that actually care about DU, show pride in being DU alums, buy season tickets, travel to Frozen Fours, maybe donate to DU…I’m pretty sure that most of them think that this whole anti-Boone thing is ridiculous. I’m also guessing that the anti-Boone folks will have few discernible ties to DU in a few years. So it comes down to whose opinion do you care about most? I think the answer is obvious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As an alumn, and a season ticket of DU hockey for the past 10 years I can respect the direction that the students want to go as can many other of my season ticket holder friends. The DU population has changed quite a bit over the years, and the majority agree that Boone should not be revived. Really, at our age, our identity should not be tied to a mascot.

      Yes, I traveled to Chicago to watch the Pioneers win the Frozen Four Championship. It was an amazing experience and I do not feel that Boone was an integral part of the experience at all — and that his absence would not have been felt.

      People should not fear change. Ideas evolve, people evolve, civilizations evolve. A mascot has no bearing on my life at this point, as it shouldn’t, but I am concerned for the current health of the school and the student body. Embrace change and eliminate outdated mascots and modes of operation. Keeping a mascot that is distasteful to many for the sake of “tradition” makes no sense. Some call it PC, but I just call it respect. Isn’t that all we want as human beings is respect?

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      1. Thanks Otemansea. I think the big issue is that a mascot decision should be made by the DU community – not the USG. The reality is that a Pioneer mascot should reflect DU’s western heritage. If students can’t accept that, Pioneers is next – a nearly 100 year brand. People need to appreciate the good in celebrating the past. That is called tolerance and it flows both ways. Not sure how anyone sees a cartoon character as offensive or sexist. 23 schools have Pioneer mascots so not sure why DU is concerned. I think students should focus on bigger issues and stop tinkering with what few traditions DU has now. I was in Chicago and Boone was a big part of the celebration in my view.

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      2. Otmansea:

        1. What data do you have to prove that “a majority agree that Boone should not be revived?” Boone has not been allowed to be part of any DU official voting since the 1980s, and the last unofficial polls that ran in 2013 in the Clarion and Denver Post showed an overwhelming preference for Boone. Until you can show me such data, your claim is quite dubious.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. If Pioneers and Boone are so offensive to a few, why did they choose to go to DU. Obviously it’s a fine institution, but there are a multitude of them with nice bland generic logos and identities! Why not choose one of them, rather than a place with a history and identity that so deeply offends you?!

    If you have so little attachment to the traditions that bind alumni to the University years, even decades, after graduating, you won’t be losing out on anything by transferring elsewhere, or else finish your degree and don’t look back, since you deem it so unimportant for alumni to hold any attachment to the traditions they were part of during their time at the school. In which case, it’s beyond selfish and ridiculous to tear down our rich and beloved traditions just because your tolerance is challenged during you cosmic five minutes on campus.

    Thousands of alumni that are tied to those traditions are expected to be tolerant of your point
    of and stand idly by while our identity is erased forever becaus you few cannot tolerate a name and mascot you find distasteful even though you CHOSE it and spend a boatload of cash each year to sit around and whine about it?! Go be a Buffalo or a Crimson and leave Boone and the Pioneers alone.

    I’m really tired of people claiming opponents of any idea they put forth are intolerant when by definition, they are the first to be intolerant. No one forced you to become a DU Pioneer, so exercise your free will and leave, or live with the consequences of your choice, get a great degree from a great school and go live your life, but don’t tear down a big part of what alumni hold dear about their alma mater! That is what is intolerant, arrogant and reprehensible!

    P.S. Anyone who thinks all those alumni and fans travelled to Chicago just to push an agenda and cared more about Boone than watching our Pios win an 8th National Championship just simply don’t get how alumni feel about their alma mater, or hockey! I know for a fact the players didn’t feel that way about their fan support! It was a great community of fan support for the team and Boone was a part of it because he should be! And enough alums feel that way to fund his presence through donations.

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  12. I had hoped that this subject would not be raised again. But I was wrong. Here we go again.
    Current students were obviously not offended by being a Pioneer when they chose to attend DU.
    Pioneer: forerunner, settler, originator, leader (Roget’s College Thesaurus) Is there anything wrong with being a Pioneer?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Students may not pick a school based on a mascot or nickname, but school spirit, unity and a sense of belonging are a a very big part of students say they want, according to surveys. I see those things as closely connected.

    Yet DU students are subjected to a four-year barrage of anti-Boone sentiment in their classes from some faculty, as well as anti-Boone hostility from the student government, who often put diversity concerns above unity and spirit.

    The Greek system at DU, historically major drivers of school spirit at DU, has been heavily diminished by Fraternity chapter closings in recent years.

    Many in the DU community are also worn-down my “mascot fatigue.’

    Fortunately, DU’s teams are still worth cheering for, and I hope that the students can build on the hockey championship and in other sports.

    Liked by 1 person

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