Mascots and Diversity

AmherstMooseThough mascots don’t speak, they have a lot to say.

Schools are in intense conversation about what their school mascot says about diversity on campus.

The mascot is the public face of the school. Students graduate, school professors and presidents come and go. Even mascots grow old. They may portray an old, out-of-date image of the school.

While reading Sunday’s New York Times, I came across and article about Amherst College’s mascot. Traditionally, the longtime, unofficial mascot, Lord Jeff — or Lord Jeffery Amherst, for whom the town of Amherst is named. Lord Jeff is a powder-wigged white guy.

A moose wandered onto Amherst’s grounds last years and started a mascot movement. One might call it a revolution. Here’s the story.

Amherst was a mostly white, male college. It is now a wonderfully diverse college of women and men. To many, Lord Jeff seems irrelevant – a symbol of a different time.

When the moose wandered onto the Amherst grounds students had an “Aha” moment. They got ahold of a Moose costume and the Moose made an appearance at Homecoming. Hilarity, drama and a few scuffles ensued. The traditionalist and the moose fanciers had words.

Heated conversation about the message a mascot is portraying has become common.Rutger University was in the news a few months ago about their white, male mascot, the Scarlet Knight. Many in Rutgers very diverse student body wanted a more inclusive mascot – Rutgers used the have the Chanticleer. They may want to return to their roots.

Many schools have dealt brilliantly with diversity and mascot image. George MasonGMU Patriot University is one. They are the Patriots. The school colors are green and gold – the mascot’s face is green and gold. He has a classy, well-tailored green tailcoat, gold pants, a big, black tricorn hat and some fabulous, black boots.

Another school had a wonderful, muscular white-guy mascot. It is a very tradition-bound school. With subtle change the the skin color the mascot became latino, african american, asian, indian or anglo with a nice, Florida tan.

Mascots open the conversation about race and image. Ultimately, mascots bring people together. Even the mascots that irritate todays students are doing their job. They are bringing students, faculty and administration together to talk values, race and image. It is important work. The mascots are leading the charge.

©JenniferSmith 2015

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