DU Reaffirms Pioneers Nickname, Finally Puts Issue to Bed

As always, it’s a great day to be a Pioneer. But perhaps it’s even better today than most others.

University of Denver Chancellor Dr. Jeremy Haefner finally made an official public statement that the school will retain the popular 95-year old nickname “Pioneers,” according to a long letter October 21st sent to alumni and responding to anti-Pioneer posters’ demands, linked here.

The key passage for Pioneer fans is:

“As such, our decision is to retain the usage of the Pioneer moniker, affirmed most recently by our Board of Trustees in 2018, while emphasizing more than ever the positive associations of the word, which describe our goals for our collective future.

At the same time, we must also use the contested definition of the Pioneer moniker to educate, learn and uncover why this word embodies both pain and pride. The University of Denver is committed to continuing its use of the word pioneer and to fully educating our community on why some in our community reject it and why some honor it. 

In proceeding in this way, we aim to reclaim and define our moniker in ways that embody our current values and commitments. We can and must lead with deliberation into our next phase of evolution as a campus, as a learning community of diverse students and scholars and as an equitable and inclusive home for each of us, and those who come after us.”

This news is a welcome relief for thousands of DU students, alumni, and fans who continue to treasure the benefits of the nickname and its 95 years of positive equity, national/regional identity, and pride in DU’s history — inspiring innovation, daring, and discovery, otherwise known as Pioneering.

“We’re obviously thrilled,” said Damien Goddard, ’89, the original founder and Godfather of LetsGoDU. “The DU Board of Trustees and Chancellor Haefner now recognize the history, power, and potential of the Pioneer brand among its community and beyond. Let’s hope this Chancellor’s statement will finally end these divisive years of controversy for good, and that we can now focus on coming together in unity as Pioneers.”

The nickname has been under fire since 2016 by a small, loud group of disgruntled DU students looking for a windmill and a small group of allied faculty and staff, including some tasked with teaching students how to protest against their own school. This group has claimed that ‘Pioneer’ is a primarily racist term that references the genocide of the Native American population.

Indeed today was a very good day for DU leadership, who made the first official public statement on the nickname since 2008 when then-Chancellor Robert Coombe promised the DU community that we “would always be the Pioneers.”

Haefner’s statement hopefully ends the nickname strife, which began in earnest in April of 2016, when DU’s diversity leaders, under then-Chancellor Rebecca Chopp, began to saber-rattle internally about a potential nickname change.  That agitation then led to the controversial “NoMorePios” campaign in late 2017, followed by the subsequent removal of DU’s unofficial mascot, Denver Boone, from campus via a now ironic mask policy, implemented in December of 2017. That momentum of those acts led the emboldened DU administrators to attempt backdoor collusion on a nickname change to “Trailblazers” in January of 2018, which was fortunately thwarted, thanks in part to the efforts of alumni, some of the writers here at LetsGoDU and our passionate readership. 

Since then, DU leaders and the Board of Trustees added more fuel to the fire by sending mixed signals and continuing the strong DU tradition of sitting on the fence and attempting to avoid offending anyone. They’ve been making private assurances to keep the nickname to some, while allowing the scrubbing of the Pioneer name from campus programs, as they refused to enter the public debate.

The dispute reached a recent crescendo as the ‘student’ group (led by DU faculty agitators) called Righteous Anger Healing Resistance (RAHR) demanded an end to Pioneers by February, 2021, as part of a protest march around the DU campus on Sept. 25.  That demand made its way to the DU Board of Trustees and Chancellor Haefner, who were smart enough to see that 95 years of brand equity in “Pioneers” would take decades to replace and that the resulting lost engagement, donations, and bad press would hurt unity as DU faces ongoing financial uncertainty amid a global pandemic and a looming capital campaign of gargantuan proportions.

Frankly, most people, especially outside of the University,  do not understand the argument raging at University & Evans. With 24 other colleges and universities in the USA that still employ the Pioneer nickname, DU is the only one that seemed to have an issue. Furthermore, DU has gone to great lengths in recent years to scrub campus of all western-themed Pioneers imagery, instead focusing on the positive, innovative connotation to the nickname.

Most people today identify pioneers as leaders and first-movers in their respective fields – a reputation most colleges would love to have. In fact, the recent choice of “Pioneer” by Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris as her U.S. Secret Service code name helped dispel the notion that the word ‘pioneer’ conveys only western settlement and destructive expansion more than a century ago.

The other damages caused by the ‘debate’ were partisan arguments, often favoring one culture at the expense of another. Growing the inclusive pie should be all about additive efforts that generate broader understanding and acceptance, without employing sweeping generalizations, negative stereotypes, or culture removal tactics.

All that said, our own ‘celebration’ today is somewhat restrained, as we have a deep sense of deja vu after fighting the same battle back in 2018. After all, we’ve had to fight very hard for years just to maintain a nickname that is already in place. Frankly, this never should have been controversial in the first place, and we remain concerned that we may have fight this same battle once again under the next chancellor. While today is a great day, we urge Pioneer fans to remain vigilant on this distracting issue.

The future success of ‘Pioneers’ as a nickname is also predicated on institutional support, and let’s hope DU will actually get behind Pioneers, instead of merely tolerating it. They can start to show this intent by elevating the Pioneer nickname back to those prominent campus traditions where it has been recently (and quietly) scrubbed behind the scenes, traditions that include the former “Pioneer Passage” orientation event (recently rebranded as ‘New Student Convocation’) and the 95-year old (former) Pioneer Awards, which were recently renamed the “Crimson and Gold Awards.”

Ultimately, DU selected the correct course. While challenging times lie ahead with COVID-19, soaring tuition costs, and an ever-changing educational landscape, the DU community has faced far bigger challenges than this in its long history.

Today, tomorrow, and always go Pioneers!

38 thoughts on “DU Reaffirms Pioneers Nickname, Finally Puts Issue to Bed”

  1. I know the Chancellor was in between a rock and a hard place, but this statement really makes my day! Thank You Chancellor Haefner!

  2. GREAT, GREAT news!!
    All of those E Mails and letters to the board and Chancellors office paid off.
    Lets Go D.U. led the charge. Thanks for alerting us alums and staying on top of the developments. Without you this would not have happened.

    Tonight i raise a 15 year MacCallen toast to victory.

    We can all celebrate together at the Frozen Four in Boston next year.
    Remember that Boston 6 on 3 win in 04?

    1. Nice idea on the MacCallen. I just poured myself a bit of the 18 year. The scotchy taste of victory.

      1. Don’t mistake Chancellor Haefner’s engaging and inclusive style for weakness. He has shown a no-nonsense approach with COVID-19 protocol and he inherited the Pioneer situation which he has shouldered directly. Showing great leadership in what is surely an extremely difficult time.

  3. Thanks everyone, great job. I still think Mr. Johnny Ramirez should be fired for his poor judgment and leadership (waving profanity laced signs around a residential neighborhood). I’m sure the small, pointless group opposing the name will continue whining this or will find something else to whine about.

  4. That’s what I’m talking about! Finally some common sense prevails. Good on the University and Haefner for putting out a direct statement. I suggest emailing to thank/affirm this decision. Step in the right direction for the University to now go an focus on academic/athletic excellence.

  5. Yes indeed!!! Fantastic news. To the hateful people like Ramirez or whatever his name is, who only care for their personal agendas and resumes…you can suck it. To the people that have engaged in a thoughtful and unselfish dialogue about the issue…I hope the Chancellor’s comments make sense to you. To the Chancellor–good job in coming out with a sensible and sensitive response to all of this noise. There’s no rule that universities must grant the demands of the perpetually unhappy. To the Pioneer supporters and people who actually give a damn about this great pioneering university–raise the glass, drink a toast to the Pios, and put DU back into your donation plans! Congrats everyone, and thanks to LetsGoDU for keeping the people who love DU apprised of what’s going on, so that we have been able to react and help.

  6. It’s a very good day in what has been a rough year.

    I’m glad DU realized this was a fight that we never wanted to have, and it is a fight that needed to end.

    While some might hope it’s all all over now, in my mind, it isn’t over.

    Why? There are still large trust holes to fill on DU’s part for funding and encouraging this seditious anti-Pioneer behavior in the first place since 2016. The Pioneer brand has seen some erosion at least internally, and I look forward to seeing how DU plans to build back the damage they have stupidly inflicted on themselves.

    Looking at the RAHR instagram page, they have vowed to keep fighting this. That’s sad. If they continue this fight, they will hurt the legitimacy of some of their other demands, which have some merit and broader support.

    DU is a very welcoming and wonderful place, and if you put your heart into your experience — you will find a sense of belonging, and feeling like Pioneer is a big part of that…

    1. I have an idea–if those people hate DU so much, why don’t they transfer to another school that is sufficiently “correct” in their eyes? Were they so stupid to enroll at DU without knowing that it is a “bastion of while colonialism” or whatever stupid thing they say it is? Or if they transferred to another school, would they be equally unhappy there? Of course they would. It is their mission to find causes where no causes exist, and try to bring attention to themselves. That’s why they have no credibility, no force of persuasion, and suffered this public embarassment by forcing the university’s hand. Not the smartest of people, apparently. Some day they will realize that diplomacy and persuasive skills (rather than hate and division) are better ways to get what you want. Oh, and also not making ridiculous “demands” that no school in their right mind would even consider.

  7. Outrage over the Pioneer name is the biggest fake issue ever. As always, we can count on DU students fueled by PC faculty who really just hate their university to get all amped up without any critical thinking and take to the streets to show their “righteous” anger. Amazing arrogance and naivete. Rather than get lathered up over Pioneer, how about these students actually focus on improving themselves. One can always count on students to overplay their hand and force an issue as they did here–check mate. You lose, students. Now they got their answer and they are probably in a tizzy over this macro-aggression and seeking support. Grow the F up.

  8. As comedian Bill Burr famously said, “85% of you have to go. I’ve been bitching about the population problem for the last three Specials in a row.”

    Never did a quote so accurately apply to the University of Denver staff & faculty who are the real culprits in all of this. Hiding behind groups like IRISE & RAHR and doing tremendous damage to the University, the brand, the students & our alumni.

    It’s time to clean House & reimagine a university that looks as good on the inside as the campus looks from the outside.


  9. To all you “old men”- Thank you for leading this fight. Some of us “youngsters” love the Pioneer name too!

    1. People from all age groups fought to keep Pioneers, from teens to 80s.

      That linkage is a sacred bond that we all share…

  10. I am, and have always been a Pioneer.

    I grew up in University Park through the sixties and seventies, and attended DU, which had always been my #1 choice. Played YAL football and baseball at Observatory Park as a orange & black Pioneer. As an undergrad, and still, I follow my alma mater with pride.
    As US citizens we hear more and more about the poison of 60s radical protestors becoming teachers and professors and subversively undermining traditional values and teaching culture and history revisionist dogmas, and this strikes me as a prime example of that.

    Applause and cheers for all those who have stood strong for tradition and for DU.

    Class of 1981.

  11. One of these days all words will be banned because someone will be offended. I’m practicing my grunting.Grunting will be the new way of communication. But then, someone will say grunting is offensive.

    1. DU already DID prevail, in case you didn’t read the article above. DU, tens of thousands of students, alumni, and the Denver community as a whole won, and 17 odd folks with a very strange axe to grind lost. Find your next strange cause. If you can’t handle Pioneer as an appropriate nickname for a school, then there are literally thousands of other things that you could find to complain about. Good luck with that

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