Kamala’s Choice Points the Way Toward A Pioneering Future at DU

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Photo: David McNew/Getty Images/LA Magazine

Here at LetsGoDU, we normally don’t wade into U.S. political waters. Our readers span the American political spectrum and there are plenty of other places on the Internet better suited for political exchange.  

However, when events in the political world are directly relevant to matters of identity and school spirit at DU, we will sometimes make exceptions.

Yesterday was one of those times, as the staff here at LetsGoDU was thrilled to see the CNN story that U.S. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris has chosen “Pioneer” as her U.S. Secret Service code name.  We know full well that she chose it to acknowledge the fact that she is the first Black woman and the first Indian-American woman to run on a major party Presidential ticket. If elected in November, she would also become the first female vice president, the first Indian-American vice president, the first Black vice president, and the first Jamaican-American vice president — a Pioneer indeed.

On another level, Harris’ choice of Pioneer as a code name serves as a validation of a major point we’ve been making for many years now –  that ‘Pioneer’ is not an offensive term, especially when used as a verb for communicating boldness and innovation. If it were seen as an offensive term, Harris, who is now running as the country’s de facto premier diversity advocate, would not have selected it to describe herself.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service special agent and CNN law enforcement analyst, said in a recent interview, “Over time, the [Secret Service] protectees have almost taken on the persona of the call sign that they had selected.” In other words, identity matters.

For years now, we have heard on our very own campus that the term ‘Pioneer’ is ‘offensive’, and we’ve watched how a small group of DU faculty and staff have tried to turn Pioneer into a negative, dirty word on campus — trying to remove it as our nickname, removing it from long-standing campus traditions and pushing the pejorative narrative that Pioneers can only represent the negatives around America’s western settlement.  

Harris’ choice is just one more example which demonstrates that the term “Pioneer” is held in high esteem by most. Indeed, one has to wonder why some, particularly on the DU campus, continue to focus their energy on the very worst of people, things, and culture. On the DU campus, much of multiculturalism seems focused on assigning negative attributes to others, rather than recognition of social injustice and solid work to bridge the gap.

We embrace the definition of Pioneer as a wider one, and so does Kamala Harris.  Her choice of ‘Pioneer’ for herself is a diverse, high profile boost to DU Alumni/fan efforts to reestablish the Pioneer name around campus.  We will always stand behind our 95-year old nickname and are eager for DU to embrace its full, wider meaning. 

It’s also high time for anti-Pioneer advocates to open their minds to wider definitions and help unify our community.

DU’s leadership is consumed right now with the critical COVID-19-related issues facing the university, and DU also has plenty of other substantive diversity issues that require their attention. Too much manufactured outrage and negative internal energy has been squandered fighting “Pioneers”.  It needs to stop now. 

The best way for it to stop is for DU leadership (Board of Trustees, Chancellor, Provost, Vice-Chancellors, and Deans) to stand up and reclaim Pioneers as a tool for unity at a time when DU needs it badly.

If Kamala Harris can claim Pioneer as part of her identity, DU can too.

35 thoughts on “Kamala’s Choice Points the Way Toward A Pioneering Future at DU”

    1. Great news as far as I’m concerned. Allows the mob at DU to focus on weightier local & national diversity issues off campus. So much negative energy was wasted on fighting “pioneers” instead of building positive experiences for alumni, students & fans. Going forward the school needs to rebuild the Pioneer Brand on & off campus. #GoPioneers #Pioneers4Ever

  1. I can’t wait to come to this blog in 50 years and see the same small group of people finding any reason to fight for the Pioneer name.

    You say it is a small group of administrators pushing for the name change, but it is a proportionally smaller group of alumni who are desperate to keep the old name. Most people among the faculty, staff and alumni are completely ambivalent. The majority of concerns come from the students, the future of the DU alumni community, and they want Pioneer removed.

    Sure, Harris using this as her code name is a point for the pro-Pioneers, but there is a much larger movement against mascots some see as offensive. Just look at the Washington Redskins.

    The DU identity is made up of its people, not the logo on a t-shirt. Students want change, and they are what DU is right now and will be in the future. I’d get used to the idea of change if I were you.

      1. Just offering my thoughts. Do you have a point to make or just some lame name calling to do?

      1. Thanks for your productive comment! I was hoping this community would have more to offer than just sneers. Can’t wait to become an alum!

      1. I wouldn’t call it change for the sake of change. It’s change fueled by the attitudes of our current students. If we reject the opinions and ideas of DU students, then aren’t we alienating the people DU is built to serve?

    1. Current student- Pioneers is not a mascot. It’s a nickname, often shortened to Pios, which we need for athletic identification. We aren’t Michigan and need all the help we can get for exposure which in turn means donations.

      1. You’re right, I know we did away with the old Boone mascot a while ago. But we wouldn’t have to just be “DU” if Pioneers went away. I would think we could come up with a new name, a new identity.

  2. We are fortunate to have very smart people in the DU community, DG and Tom Romero at iRISE probably disagree on some things but they’re both pretty sharp cookies. I wish someone would “pioneer” a meeting to get out of our silos on this and try and find some common ground.

    1. I didn’t intend to equate the two, only to demonstrate that there is a national conversation about team names and mascots. The Redskins are just the most visible example of this.

  3. ActualDUstudent:

    DU is not just built to serve the current students, but a much larger community…

    As you get older, I hope you will learn to appreciate that the DU you enjoy today was built and made possible by those Pioneers who went before you, as well as generous friends. We may not all be attending classes now, but many of us carry a big emotional investment in our school, just as you do, and many of us have been invested in DU for longer than you have been alive!

    DU serves a far, far larger community than just the current on-campus community of about 15,000 current students, faculty and staff. There are about 150,000 living DU alumni, and thousands more DU sports fans (who didn’t go to DU) who cheer on the Pioneers and Pioneers is a big part of their self-identity and culture. That larger DU community is at least 10 times the size of the campus community, and it is the traditions like Pioneers that bind us together as a community for nearly 100 years. Many of those alumni are quite proud to be Pioneers, and when you sever those traditions, you bifurcate our identity, erode that sense of greater community, tradition and the bond between the generations.

    I would suggest that you try and open your mind to accept a wider definition of Pioneer as a bold, barrier-breaking innovator.

    And if you still can’t embrace or at least accept the nickname, I have to question why you would willingly choose to come to DU if the nickname was that offensive to you?

    There are over 4,000 colleges/universities in America and only about 20-30 of them are nicknamed “Pioneers.” Perhaps one of those other 4,000 schools may be a bitter fit for you?

    1. hi Puck Swami,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Unfortunately, I’m not quite as young as you may think, as I’m a working professional coming back to college for a graduate degree. I’m an alum of and donor to another school with an equally long tradition. I’ve previously worked at other universities on the alumni engagement and fundraising side, so I am pretty aware of the importance of alumni and donors to the work of a university like DU.

      While the larger audience of alumni is incredibly important to the future of my education at DU, I don’t believe the opinions and memories of alumni totally eclipse those of current students like me. We have to work together, but we also have to recognize that the future, even beyond my tenure here, is more important than the past. The former glory of DU Pioneers will not fade because a name changes. And no one is ever going to kick you out of magness for chanting ‘go pios.’

      I would ask you to open your mind to view a name as just a name. If it becomes the will of a majority of students to change it, then let it be changed. For the record, I am ambivalent, but I think it is important to present the other side of the argument, since it seems like this site is pretty one-sided.

      As to your final point about looking elsewhere for a school with a different nickname, I think that is a poor attitude to have toward any DU student. I am a student because DU has the right program and I believe in its mission. I want this to be a welcoming institution where all opinions are heard and where students are encouraged to express disagreement in a productive way. Something like a nickname isn’t enough to push most students one way or another when choosing a school, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get to have an opinion about it.

      Pioneer may be part of your identity and your connection to DU, but it seems to be less true for each incoming class. I hope you appreciate that the school will continually change to keep itself competitive, modern and relevant.

      1. I’m not looking to jump down anyone’s throat – I am genuinely interested because you’re in a unique position as a current student.You say you’re ambivalent but among those who aren’t, do you see any room for compromise? Yes, I fully concede that the spirit “Pioneers” was used originally could be problematic to certain communities. But if the alumni community has accept that Boone is gone and not coming back (except as a vehicle to sell t-shirts and hoodies) could there be an open mindedness to accepting Pioneer as a term that exclusively means iconoclast?

    2. Well said. As a Denver native, I have supported DU emotionally, AND financially for over 50 years. DU wouldn’t exist without community support. Simply being a student doesn’t mean you are the only voice in the conversation.

      Sadly, the administration decisions are as consistent as the current weather conditions. FYI, in Denver terms, that means wait ten minutes and it will change.

      Denver is my home. I value the students input, but after you graduate, the Denver residents are still here and have to clean up after you.

      Go Pioneers!!!

  4. There are plenty of lists on the internet of schools that have changed logos, nicknames & mascots. Many changed for valid reasons (redskins, indians, braves, warriors). As far as I’ve seen online, no school has ever changed a western-themed nickname (Cowboys, Sooners, Pioneers ect.)

    Hundreds of DU alums wrote emails against the proposed name change to Trailblazers to DU, the Board of Trustees & Alumni office a couple of years ago. Despite strong support from Chancellor Chopp, the BOTs sided with the Alums when they crosschecked the emails with the Donor lists.

    There are many decisions made by major universities because a few high level donors feel strongly about an issue. The University of Texas’ “Eyes of Texas” controversy is a classic example. The fact that Florida State is called the Seminoles, is another.

    Hopefully when the DU student above becomes an Alum they will have different opinions & interests than today. Happens all the time.

    But if you dont change your opinion you better butter up some high level DU donors or else you’re going to be a “Pio Until You Die-O”

    1. Unfortunately, you are spot on when you talk about the high-level donors having a huge amount of power in this arena. But higher ed is a business, and donations are a big part of the overall funding of any school like DU.

  5. So much wasted effort when there are other more important problems to address at DU. Alumni are not fighting any of the current Diversity focus on campus. We only want ONE thing. The 95 year nickname preserved. Yet, nothing is out of bounds for the mob. In fact, because ‘ Pioneers’ is loved, it only acts as red meat. Pioneers is only offensive if you have been trained to see the worst in others. If that is the case, time to eliminate all culture from campus including the Native American statue at engineering, the sculptures in front of social work and the Cheyenne and Arapaho flags. Scrub the campus of any sign of culture/history because, of course, we are the first enlighten society on earth.

  6. We have now heard the opinion of a learned, single, narrow minded grad student who purports to give us the opinion the majority of DU students…

    I seriously doubt this is true.

    Until proven otherwise, I will continue to believe that most DU students are either happy with the Pioneer name or don’t really care one way or the other.

    It is time to worry about much more important issues than this old one!

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      I didn’t claim to speak for a majority. I said “If it becomes the will of a majority of students to change it, then let it be changed.” All I know is that there is definitely a group of students who want the change. Look at the voluntary removal of Pioneer from ID cards. I was on campus last spring and there were students with tables offering to discuss the Pioneer name. How many are on this side? Who knows.

      And I agree there are more important issues, but it seems like this one is the most commonly talked about on this blog, so I wanted to wade in.

  7. For someone who claims to be ambivalent, you are spending a lot of time on this! You didn’t wade in, you dove in 😉 Go Pios!

  8. Don’t be surprised to see Pioneers back on the ID Cards at some point. The person responsible for that decision did not clear it with upper DU administrators and is no longer employed by the University of Denver.

    Coincidence?

  9. PC watchword–diversity

    Kamala Harris certainly represents Diversity in the political world. Female. Heritage–Asian/Indian and Black and Jamaican and American. Daughter of immigrants. Former Prosecutor with liberal/progressive social views. 2nd black woman Senator. 1st woman of color to be selected to run as VP. A Pioneer in the true sense of the word.

    (FYI liberal is not a four letter word)

  10. Good to hear the opinions of “actual student” who is actually willing to engage in a dialogue. However, it doesn’t boil down to whether he, a handful of other students, or a radical fringe group on campus, want a name change. You have to have a good reason to change something, as traditions are part of a university’s core existence. It boils down to whether there is anything wrong with the Pioneers nickname. The answer is clearly “no.” Not only is there nothing wrong with it, there is so much RIGHT with it, as indicated by Kamala Harris’s understanding of the word. All universities should strive to be pioneers–it’s the most apt nickname for a university that I can imagine. Oh…and there’s also the matter of pissing off tens of thousands of students, alumni, and supporters of the university, just to satisfy the radical flavor of the day desires of a few. That part would also make zero sense. Appreciate your input, actual student, but you have failed to make a compelling case for a name change. Not the fault of your persuasive skills…it’s the fact that there never has been a supportable argument behind it.

    1. I’m absolutely fine with agreeing to disagree with many of the folks on here. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say there is objectively nothing wrong with the name, as it clearly has raised some issues with some people at DU. And from what I can tell, this has been a topic of interest for a few years, so it isn’t exactly a ‘flavor of the day’ as you said. Whether you agree with the arguments or not, some people are looking for change and therefore it’s worth having a conversation about.

      My argument is for listening to the people who want to change it, and getting a better understanding of how all the different parts of the DU community think. I believe it is important to keep an open mind, and I hope I have encouraged a person or two to do just that.

      1. Maybe a change to the Robot, Elk, Mountain Climber, or Jackalope. Those were some of the ideas on a survey a few years back. If I recall those were soundly defeated and generally ridiculed.

        On this topic, I reject your notion of change for the sake of change. History and tradition are a large part of DU pride.

  11. While there was a DU visual mascot vote (the Elk, Jackalope, you mentioned) in the summer of 2013, that survey did not address or test the nickname “Pioneers.” That 2013 mascot survey was an humiliating and expensive public failure for DU and the Board of Trustees had to put and end to to the whole thing with nothing solved.

    There has never been widespread, scientific polling on the validity of the Pioneer nickname among the wider DU community, likely because the DU administration would not like have to reveal what would be the pro-Pioneer results.

    The current (2020) DU brand study did include a open-ended single question on the Pioneer name, but the audience for that survey is quite limited. Additionally, the question did not assign any numerical values for any kind of quantitative determination on merits, so any answers would only be anecdotal and subject to heavy skewing.

    Some decisions, like nicknames, are just not suitable or appropriate for current students to decide. This is why universities have Boards of Trustees. And for now, we are still the Pioneers.

  12. Dunker glad this post generated so much interest. A few thoughts. Current and recent DU parents refer to their children as “my Pio”. I read it every day on a parents and family site. It might be time to adopt Pioneers or Pios as our official nickname. We are lagging behind unmercifully in spreading the good DU vibes outside of Colorado. Lots of lost revenue and donations. We cannot let alums slowly drift away. The arched DENVER doesn’t work on the east coast. I wear a pandemic mask with arched Denver. People think I just like the city of Denver. DU, Denver Pioneers, Denver Pios, or Denver Lacrosse or Hockey all work. (other sports also) People in clothing marketing need some outside input from you locals. They do not see the big picture.

    GO PIONEERS. STAY SAFE EVERYONE

  13. The people claiming “Pioneers” is an offensive term are full-on gaslighting and clasping at finding obscure ways to play victim. It’s all about control. The name could be any number of innocuous things and they would take issue. It objectively is not an offensive term, period. The fact that one of the most progressive politicians out there is using it without second thought is proof.

    To the perpetual victim students: worry about things that actually impact you. Put your head down, work hard and develop some grit. You’d be shocked at what that teaches you.

  14. I work at DU and I can assure you all making our alums happy is what we try to do 24/7/365. When alums are unhappy it keep us all up at night. If you’re an alum know we care with all our heart and soul.

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