DU ‘Pioneers’ nickname once again at risk due to internal sabotage and erosion

Once again, recent University of Denver administrative action appears to be sabotaging the Pioneer nickname, this time quietly removing “Pioneer” from two long-standing, on-campus programs, the Pioneer Awards and Pioneer Passage. Both programs have recently been renamed to eliminate the word “Pioneer,” directly contradicting a 2018 DU Board of Trustees decision to keep the 95-year-old Pioneer nickname in place.

You’ll recall that in January 2018, we broke the story that a so-called “mask ban” was suspiciously enacted by DU to prevent the “Denver Boone” mascot from appearing at DU home games. Within weeks of that debacle, we reported that the DU central administration was secretly colluding with student groups to change the “Pioneer” nickname to “Trailblazers”. Within weeks of our stories, after vociferous objections from the alumni and fan community, then-DU Board of Trustees Chairman Doug Scrivner sent out a damage-control email with assurances that the Pioneer nickname was not going to change.

Still, the Pioneer nickname continues to be slowly scrubbed away from within. Since many of our DU fans and readers are not currently on campus, we believed it was our duty to report on this sabotage so that these quiet steps could be brought into the public sphere.

First, then-Chancellor Rebecca Chopp quietly renamed the Evans Award, the highest recognition the University could bestow, as the Chancellors’ Medal, in order to help rid DU of its association with its western pioneer founder, John Evans.

Next, in early 2019, DU’s long-standing student awards program, The Pioneer Awards, was suddenly (and quietly) renamed the Crimson and Gold Awards.

And we now have proof that Pioneer Passage, the meaningful induction ceremony during first-year orientation week, has apparently been renamed New Student Convocation, set to debut this September. The projected orientation schedule created on Apil 29th, 2019 had “Pioneer Passage” scheduled for 10:45 AM on Tuesday September 3rd, while a July 22, 2019 version of the same schedule now has “New Student Convocation” slated for the same time and date, proving that DU dropped “Pioneer Passage” name sometime between April and July of 2019.

Who is Behind These Changes?

While we can’t say for certain which high-level administrators are responsible for the changes, it is notable that both the former “Pioneer Awards” and “Pioneer Passage” likely fall under the auspices of the Office of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. Readers may recall the chart we published in January of 2018, identifying the hierarchy of DU administrators likely responsible for the mascot/mask debacle. Since then, almost all of those administrators have left DU or been moved from those positions of power. It may be significant that the Vice-Chancellor of Campus and Inclusive Excellence is one of only two of those administrators still remaining in their positions (the other being the Director of Campus Safety).

Indeed, the recent changes seem to demonstrate that certain administrators are continuing to attack the “Pioneer” name wherever and whenever they can — despite DU’s promise to students and alumni that they would not remove the “Pioneer” name. Like the constant drip-drip-drip of erosion, those responsible are deviously continuing to work from within to destroy the “Pioneer” name. Indeed, scrubbing the Pioneer nickname from university use has appears to have become a cause célèbre for the parties behind these changes.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that this erosion may actually be part of a calculated University-wide move to eventually eliminate the Pioneers nickname altogether. While the Board of Trustees signaled in early 2018 that there would be no nickname change, that was either untrue or their directive is being ignored and/or undermined from within.

This year, with a new Chancellor, a new Board Chair and a new Vice-Chancellor of Development (yet to be hired), the issue may, unfortunately, be on the table once again.

Implications of the Changes

DU Athletics, which continues to use the nickname “Pioneers,” may be one of the most direct casualties of the anti-Pioneer efforts. While Athletics is currently performing well above the rest of the campus, university athletes, coaches, and athletic administrators may ultimately find themselves in the crosshairs of anti-Pioneer sentiment on campus. We have long argued that athletics can be one of the primary forces in pulling an otherwise fragmented campus community together. Yet manufactured anti-Pioneer sentiment may mean that an often-apathetic student body may eventually provide even less support to athletics than they already do.

The DU alumni organization, overseen by the office of the Vice-Chancellor for Development, also uses the Pioneer name proudly, reflecting the many years of positive connection that most of the over 140,000 living alumni likely enjoy with the Pioneer name. DU’s clandestine efforts to change the name in 2018 incensed many alumni, and further efforts to do so will not play well with the largest group of people in the DU community.  The ramifications could be severe as the University moves toward the public phase of its new capital campaign to raise $1 billion.

At a minimum, scrubbing DU’s nickname from student lexicon will begin to separate students from the real and emotional connection that comes with our college nickname, as well as the identity and campus unity benefits that come with it.

The “Pioneer” nickname at DU is nearly 95 years old. It reflects, in part, a university that was actually and proudly built by western pioneers (along with much of the city and state we enjoy today) and is deeply intertwined in not just the athletic fabric of the campus but the university culture as a whole. But “Pioneer” means much more than that. As both a verb and a noun, even students who may have been pushed by administrators to object to the “Pioneer” name (often students of color, Native Americans, and foreign students) can be proud to be Pioneers as well — with many of them experiencing college for the first time or pursuing a new, exciting future as important members of a proud DU community.

Every living DU alumnus is a Pioneer, and we have shown before that attempts to sever us from that nickname (and our sense of connection) will not end well.

It seems clear that the recent changes to “Pioneers” are not accidents or coincidences.

As in the old slogan, “Watch what they do – not what they say.”

We’re watching what you do, DU, and from where we sit, it looks bad.

8 thoughts on “DU ‘Pioneers’ nickname once again at risk due to internal sabotage and erosion”

  1. So sad. Unfortunately, the forces that continue to build within this misguided PC movement can not be stopped. They have learned how to destroy us from within and day by day, inch by inch, they are succeeding. No one in power within the university has the backbone to stand up to this handful of zealots.

  2. I’d be interested to hear what
    DU has to say about all this. They can’t publicly declare “Pioneers”
    is a racist term. But there is no doubt that these moves are a first
    step to muddy the waters.

  3. This is disturbing on so many levels.

    I don’t know how any university would continue to pay six figures to senior administrators who so cravenly seek to undermine the university’s decisions on identity.

    This blog continues to reveal the destructive and far-reaching lunacy of how the poorly- practiced Inclusive Excellence concept is deeply corroding our university.

    Keep holding them accountable!

  4. I will forever be a PIONEER!

    This is exactly why I do NOT give any money to the alumni association…
    Whenever I’m called, I simply ask, “who is the school mascot,” which is usually answered by “the Pioneers.”
    To which I reply, “Wrong… It is Boone.”

    When the alumni development staff answers this question correctly, I’ll consider donating money to my beloved school. The revisionist historians working under the pretense of “politically correctness” ideology, have become very dangerous.

    ” Whether or not this change really furthered some nobler end, however, is by and large irrelevant to the greater danger of unbridled revisionism carried out by indignant, politically correct folk. The profounder evil is opening our long-standing traditions to a burgeoning relativism that seeks to dismantle anything in its path for no legitimate end beyond temporarily appeasing its own, insatiable appetite.” February 17, 2017 Paul Ingrassia


  5. I love the Pioneers and was a student-athlete myself. However it has become so hard to continually support the university when it’s clear they have gone off the deep end with political correctness and social justice nonsense. It’s one thing to take a look at talented applicants from a variety of backgrounds, but another completely to put your leftist ideology above all else. Quit calling for donations.

  6. I am so done with this institution. I have no idea what’s direction is, what its goals are, who it’s trying to attract, what image it wants to achieve on a national level, or why it exists any more. It’s too expensive to be offering teaching/sociology degrees, its business school and engineering can’t compete with CU, it doesn’t offer a more locally valuable degree than CU-Denver, and I can’t imagine it being on the radar of high achieving students outside Denver, short of proximity to skiing. The weekend/night law degree program is the only thing that sets it apart. The school has gone backward in the past 10 years. Other than building lots of stuff, I don’t understand the vision of the board/chancellor.

    1. This is spot on. CU-Denver has made impressive strides while DU has slipped back. Given the price DU is not providing any competitive advantage over CU-Denver and certainly not Boulder or Mines. Sure the buildings are nice but don’t necessarily translate to academic success. What bright high schoolers without means will choose DU over the much cheaper in-state options?

  7. Ummmm… DU kicks CU’s ass on various levels & various programs. CU is where your average partiers from high school go, and DU can, and should, aspire to much higher than that. Instead of falling in the rankings to be tied with CU, DU needs to be elevating in the rankings to achieve the kind of admissions standards that CC has. But DU loses sight of things that actually matter in the quest for PC BS. I appreciate LetsGoDU tracking this, and hopefully you guys continue to track it. Pioneers forever, yo.

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