As we near Homecoming Weekend, hockey will take center stage but it’s easy to forget that student-athletes have been caught in the middle of the ‘friendly crossfire’ of the Pioneers ‘debate.’
While the DU Administration tries to manage a homegrown crisis, divided between tolerance and intolerance of its own Pioneer nickname, DU’s athletes are caught in the middle. Competing as Pioneers, they give their blood, sweat, and tears for DU, but remain in a direct line of internal fire, as a handful of DU’s senior administrators and a handful of student pawns take shots at the Pioneer name.
The primary mission of LetsGoDU has been to build unity and school spirit for DU and celebrate our student-athletes’ success both on and off the playing surface. Unfortunately, a splintered DU administration is doing the exact opposite.
Our premise remains constant: a university with strong school traditions and spirit builds more institutional loyalty. This loyalty – which strong universities with supportive community, student, and alumni stakeholders carefully cultivate – leads to better engagement, more unity, better financial support, career and social networking, and more opportunities for long-term alumni involvement.
Pioneer student-athletes are certainly doing their part and then some. Denver’s athletes have rewarded the DU community by winning numerous conference and national championships while academically outperforming their on-campus peers as well as peer schools. DU’s unique strategy of building a unique sports mix that not only wins titles but graduates athletes at higher rates than their DU fellow students, and with higher average GPAs, too, is a beacon for other schools.
DU student-athletes and students alike have told us that they are frustratingly caught in the middle of a culture war through no fault of their own. Instead of unwavering support from the central administration, what the student-athletes and students often see is a tepid-at-best administration nickname policy which leaves them in limbo as they balance athletics and the classroom.
Imagine the dissonance Denver athletes feel when they hear the overwhelming public support for the ‘Denver Pioneers’ north of Asbury Avenue and harsh derision of the same south of it? And, can you imagine any other successful institution or eminent company that allows and even encourages this type of acrimony?
It is time for the DU administration to quit whispering assurances to alumni, donors, and fan groups that ‘Pioneers’ is here to stay while winking at other on-campus groups that they can decide to do anything they want with the name – even to the point of trashing and denigrating the Board of Trustees-endorsed official nickname of the University of Denver. Or worse yet, rewarding a handful of people who want to identify and label the very worst in others.
Let’s remember what Homecoming is all about. It’s about bringing people together for a shared experience, a time to reflect on the past and a time to imagine a bright future. Rarely has there been a university nickname that so effectively encompasses all three. ‘Pioneers’ does that.
Our university leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to carefully nurture traditions which are the emotional DNA of every successful university. And ‘Pioneers’ – with its numerous positive meanings – can be easily shaped to meet today’s University of Denver values and align with the values of all graduates.
It is each of our responsibilities to let the University leadership know that their continued silence is unacceptable.
But, perhaps most importantly, DU’s leaders need to immediately stop allowing DU’s students and student-athletes to be caught in the middle of this ‘debate.’ Our community deserves better than to be treated like this.