This cartoon is at the center of a controversy at the University of Denver. We have previously discussed the trend to eliminate such school symbols as Chief Illini and others. Unlike some of these controversies, “Denver Boone” is not based on a tribe but is a cartoon character designed by a Walt Disney cartoonist. However, the University of Denver has voted to ban its use as offensive.
Ironically Denver Boone was a vast improvement over the original mascot. From 1867 to the early 1920s, the University of Denver was known as the “Fighting Parsons” to honor the school’s Methodist founders. In the annals of mascots, that just might be the worst. Of course, there are the Boll Weevils (University of Arkansas at Monticello), the Banana Slugs (University of California-Santa Cruz), Fighting Okra (Delta State), Artichokes (Scottsdale Community College) and of course The Fighting Pickles (North Carolina School of the Arts). (I actually like the Poets at Whittier College).
The University of Denver transitioned in 1925 to the Pioneers with obvious reference to its early settlements. That became Pioneer Pete in the 1930s — a rugged, coonskin capped trapper.
While many have called for the return of Denver Boone, as he became known, the school declared him a persona non grata. Instead, they replaced him with a red-tailed hawk known as Ruckus, which was a colossal failure.
Nevertheless, people have been a bit ambiguous why the character is racist and sexist — both objections made by some students and faculty. Chancellor Robert Coombe insisted that “Boone was a polarizing figure that did not reflect the growing diversity of the UD community, but rather was an image that many women, persons of color, international students and faculty members found difficult to relate to as defining the pioneering spirit.”
Even if the association with Daniel Boone was not optimal, it is not clear why Pioneer Pete was also rejected. Indeed, any connection between Boone and Colorado is highly speculative and he never wore a coonskin cap. Pioneer Pete would seem a more fitting name. However, it is the image and not just the Boone association that has drawn criticism as racist or sexist.
The university insists that this is simply a case of a student body developing a new sense of identity and diversity. However, the controversy has grown after the Undergraduate Student Government passed a bill on Feb. 27, 2013 to bar the use of the mascot – a move that critics insist is opposed to the wishes of the majority of students.
The University is not backing down and insists that it will not go back regardless of polls of the student body. Currently the school posted a “to be determined” mascot.