DU faculty member and protestor Johnny Ramirez (seen at the rear in the hat) during last Friday’s RAHR protest. Photo: RAHR
We’ve had it. Enough already.
We’re tired of years of DU’s faculty and staff working behind the scenes and now, directly orchestrating protests with the objectives of smashing DU traditions and further dividing the DU community.
It’s time for DU to step up and reaffirm the Pioneer nickname officially, as it should have done a long time ago. The 95-year old ‘Pioneers’ nickname has linked generations of Denver students, alumni, and fans in the long chain of shared experience. It’s time for nickname opponents to shift their focus away from the red herring that is Pioneers to actual on-campus changes that would make DU a better place for all.
The latest provocation for Pioneer fans was a campus protest march comprised of a small group of about 100 students, community-based groups, faculty, and staff on September 25. The protestors this time have named themselves “RAHR” (an acronym for Righteous Anger, Healing Resistance). But unlike actual organic student-led protests, this one was turbo-charged by DU’s paid full-time faculty agitator, Johnny Ramirez, from DU’s IRISE institute, who organized and led the charge calling for ‘Decolonizing DU’ and targeting the ‘Pioneer’ nickname as the primary appetizer to a broad menu of other social justice demands.
His group also covered the large University of Denver sign on University Boulevard with a ‘No More Pios‘ sign and chanted “Pioneers are violent. How long can you be silent?” among other chants and placards (as seen above).
While most of the protesters did wear face masks during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the six-foot social distancing rules that DU and Denver police reminded them to respect, were not respected by the marchers, as the photos show. Some of the social justice elements of the protest were also supported by the University of Denver administration, whose senior officials wrote this letter prior to the march, and some of whose faculty spoke at Observatory Park afterward in support of the marchers.
RAHR seems intent on leveraging anger, bigotry, division, and resistance well beyond righteous healing. DU has recently hired faculty (such as Ramirez with protest-organizing backgrounds) to train, organize and lead students in the art of professional agitation and protest against DU’s long-held nickname among a host of other ‘demands’. How many other universities subsidize protesters to protest against their very own employers? DU’s self-flagellation is absurd. How will the climate ever improve if a permanent grievance infrastructure must be paid to ensure they are actually “needed?” It’s a silly, circular firing squad that ends with much deeper destruction.
This would surely be more acceptable to us if such resources were also provided to protect and nurture the 95-year-old Pioneer nickname, which is treasured by many students and alumni. But no public help has come from DU administrators since former Chancellor Robert Coombe’s 2008 statement, “We will always be the Pioneers.”
Unfortunately, there cannot be a fair debate right now because the current climate endorsed and cultivated by DU faculty has muted undergraduate, alumni and sports fan voices who support Pioneers. The reality is that many Pioneer nickname advocates are progressive politically – including some voices on this site – and sympathize with many of the other on-campus goals of the protesters, but differ on the nickname “issue” because the nickname is not inherently offensive and Pioneer is more of a verb than it is a noun anymore (not to mention the fact that all western imagery was retired from campus more than a decade ago).
Many of the protesters’ views on this subject are predicated on exaggeration or even straight-up lies. Stating “DU is institutionally racist” when the University has bent over backward to promote diversity, building students of color to over 25% of enrollment during the last 15 years, and spending millions to ensure that racial diversity is a key part of the DU experience, is a huge stretch at best.
The ongoing stripping of “Pioneers” from DU campus awards and events continues to this day – even though most people identify current-day pioneers as leaders and innovators (such as recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who just chose “Pioneer” as her Secret Service code name). Finally, the anti-Pioneer crowd wants to smear and erase Pioneers – denying the many positive aspects of pioneers and denigrating the majority culture – the height of hypocrisy by assigning the very worst traits to one group, while idealizing their own culture.
Ultimately, this is not an issue that allows for compromise. This is about the truth. Pioneers founded the University of Denver and the City of Denver. A ‘pioneer’ is also used commonly to describe leaders and innovators. That label of Pioneers in today’s lexicon can be described as nothing but a positive compliment. Assigning inaccurate or misleading labels to somehow advance indigenous or underrepresented groups is a cheap way to play on the current polarized political and social environment. And, probably most importantly, it completely diminishes and delegitimizes other highly effective on-campus desires the protesters are working to achieve.
DU’s direct investment in funding, supporting, and now, cheerleading for a small but vocal group in dismantling its own nickname will not bring people together at a time of financial uncertainty during Covid-19. Such institutional endorsement will only cultivate further division.
It’s time for DU to reclaim the Pioneer name.