Defining identity at the University of Denver

Homecoming weekend is soon to arrive on the University of Denver campus. It’s a wonderful time to see DU friends, walk the campus in its fall glory, cheer on the top-ranked DU hockey team and celebrate the bonds we all share as fellow Pioneers. From the newest first-year students who have been a part of our community for only a few weeks, to the oldest alumnus or DU fan, we’re all part of a pretty big family. How big? Well, there are about 11,600 students, 1,300 faculty and 1,700 staff on campus, but the DU community is much, much larger when you include the 100,000+ living DU alumni around the world, the parents and families of our students, and the many others who choose to support our school, including DU’s neighbors, its sports fans, its donors and event attendees.

As in any community or family this large, there will be many voices speaking about our school and its sense of identity that have ramifications that go well beyond the campus bubble. This week, the DU Native Student Alliance (“NSA”) announced that it is starting a campaign called “No More Pios” with a goal of changing the school’s nickname, the Pioneers.  While we certainly recognize that the NSA has a right to express their views, we believe this issue isn’t just about Native students or school nicknames or mascots or even sports. It’s a larger issue about shared identity, history, culture and unity. And it’s about how our university administration protects and advances our legacy. We are living in fractious times, and we need more unity in our university and our country than ever before.

We at LetsGoDU have been a big part of the mascot and nickname issues at DU for many years, representing what we believe to be a positive, additive and inclusive approach to celebrating our school’s history and traditions, as they are the powerful tools that create the emotional bonds all of us can share.

And while some may feel tired or fatigued about this issue after years of debate, we want everyone to know that this issue still matters to us, and should matter to every Pioneer, past and present. LetsGoDU has been here, and will continue to be here, after many students, administrators and even chancellors have moved on, and we will continue to share, advocate for and protect our traditions, identity and beliefs:

-We believe that every culture, identity and history is important — no one’s history should be erased;

-We believe a Pioneer is a positive force for good, and a worthy moniker for the founding of our school, our city and our state;

-We believe there is positive room for everyone under the Pioneer tent;

-We believe in free speech and civil debate, and that our university is a great venue for these conversations as we continue to learn from each other.

We’ll be keenly interested in advancing the debate once again in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, let’s all enjoy our homecoming weekend.

And go Pioneers!

9 thoughts on “Defining identity at the University of Denver”

  1. I do understand some of the Native Students’ sense of frustration, marginalization and fish-out-of-water-ness coming into DU, where money, power, class and privilege are all around them and seemingly right in their faces sometimes. That’s the reality at most high level private schools, and DU always needs to do a better job of making them feel welcome here with scholarships, support and opportunity.

    That said, when you choose to accept the offer of admission and/or scholarship money, you also choose to join our community and become a Pioneer. That doesn’t mean you are forced to go to sporting events or wear DU stuff, but it should also mean that you should support the community that you are part of, and that you don’t try to erase the heritage or traditions of others, who take pride in it, any more than you should expect others to dishonor your own culture or traditions. There are 4,000+ institutions of higher learning in America, and 99% of them don’t have the Pioneer nickname. If it really offends you that much, then join another school that better fits your goals. Don’t be the one that ruins the Pioneer experience for others.

    The Pioneer nickname has been there for 92 years now, and every living person who has gone to school here or ever cheered our DU teams should take pride in being a Pioneer, too. For many of us, Pioneer transcends the Western explorer definition, and means a powerful sense of personal redefinition. Denver was not just a school, but a destination – a place where we could be anything we dreamed. I urge every Pioneer to stick up for this name and this heritage, and I hope the Native Students (and those who just want to upset the Pioneer apple cart) can find a more important focus than trampling on the heritage and great things in our community that we honor with the Pioneer name.

    This isn’t about politics, race or social justice. This is about respecting a great nickname at a great school that truly fits who we are throughout the ages, and honoring those who came before us.

    Go Pios!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with Swami on all counts. What is the DU administration doing to create an inclusive environment at DU for Native Americans? There is clearly an issue when a symbol has become a rallying point while more substantive issues are clearly not being addressed. The ‘inclusive’ in excellence has somehow been lost in all this when people and cultures are assigned one dimensional labels.


  2. So much sympathy for Native Americans, and the horrible things that our country put them through. It’s extremely heartbreaking. But when you look at the problems that they still have, and see these oh-so-earnest kids focusing on the Pioneers name, instead of actual societal problems in the Native American community…it just sheds more light on the silliness of it all. There are usually a couple fringey people in the faculty of colleges who unfortunately think that this stuff is a way to get attention. Ridiculous, really, and shows a complete ignorance of not only of what “Pioneers” stand for, and the fact that this name does not just represent a historical concept. Pioneers will always be in society, coming up with new and worthwhile things. I am pretty sure DU knows how stupid it would be to piss off thousands of alumni, to satisfy the “demands” of like 20 people.


  3. I think this “campaign” will end up marginalizing Native Students even more by pitting them against the majority of the DU community, who take pride in the heritage and positive aspects of the Pioneers. The blowback these kids are getting on Facebook alone on the first day is substantial, and will only get worse when the other students and alumni find out about this. This will likely not only hurt their time on campus with their peers, but will also be costly for them in the job hunt as prospective employers google them, should they stay in the Denver area. I suspect that CME is the body that is pushing them in this direction. DU could save them a world of hurt, and themselves a world of media embarrassment by letting these kids know that the Pioneer name is off limits and won’t be changed.

    If DU is stupid enough to consider changing it, they will get hammered in the press once again, and the loss of alumni support will be far more than the mascot saga of 2013. That’s the last thing they should want as they head into a capital campaign. Unfortunately, many DU leaders were not here for the public flogging they got in 2013, so they may be in for a damaging experience…


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