In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Donal O’Toole, a professor in the department of veterinary sciences and the president of the Faculty Senate, denounced the line as “a sexist slogan.” Associate professor Ellen Currano described the anger of faculty at the slogan. Christine Porter, an associate professor of community and public health insisted that “It’s very 1950s to think that ‘boy’ somehow includes ‘girl.’”
Cowboy can be treated as inclusive of both genders. Today we often substitute gender specific nouns. Thus, I rarely say “firemen” or “policeman” today as opposed to “fire fighter” or “police officer.” The problem is that there is not a readily available gender neutral alternative for “cowboy.” “Cow poke” is not a common phrase and “cow puncher: would trigger a PETA protest. Saying “The World Needs More Cowboys and Cowgirls” is a bit long and excludes other genders under current guidelines including genderless students. The alternative is to treat “cowboy” as inclusive, including images of female cowboys. That is what many female members of Congress do in calling themselves a “congressman” (though “representative” is available and I tend to use that term).
In other articles Native American groups have objected to the slogan as racist. It is relevant to note that other countries have cowboys like the gauchos of the pampas. Many references to females are still “gauchos” though you do see some references to “gauchas” when you are only referring to a female. Collectively, the reference is still “gauchos.”
I have previously expressed my concerns over the removal of long-held mascots and names in colleges. Some changes are warranted but many reference social and cultural touchstones that can be presented in a proper context. Cowboys are obviously a part of the heritage of the state as are Native Americans. I do not see why both cannot be honored or why the term cannot be inclusive. That does not mean that the campaign is racist or that it (or the mascot) should be dropped.
Wyoming honors the toughness, independence and adventuresome character of “cowboys.” Many cowboys were African American or hispanic. It is an image that resonates deeply in the state. The concern is that we toss such touchstones as non-inclusive rather than make them more inclusive or to present them in a better context.
In the end, however, Nelson saw this coming: