The University of Denver Pioneers have always had that fighting spirit, but over the past decade, some of that fighting has focused on the school's longtime — and now former — mascot, a bearded, coonskin-cap-wearing pioneer named Denver Boone.
Created in 1968, the cartoon character was designed by a Walt Disney artist and served as the school's official mascot for thirty years. But in the late 1990s, some students began to complain about Boone, saying that the smiling, chubby-cheeked character was named after Daniel Boone and represented a way of life that resulted in the destruction of many Native American tribes and the deaths of thousands of people.
In 1998, the school's administration decided to do away with Boone — but a decade later, a group of students and alumni began a campaign to bring Boone back. After they'd petitioned the university over the course of a year, Chancellor Robert Coombe created a committee to examine the idea — but he ultimately rejected it, saying, "The committee's initial efforts indicated a groundswell of support for Boone. Over time, though, the responses became more polarized, a growing number suggesting that the Boone image of the 1970s was simply not reflective of either the DU or America of today, still less of the future. From this perspective, the old Boone figure is one that does not reflect the broad diversity of the DU community and is not an image that many of today's women, persons of color, international students and faculty, and others can easily relate to as defining the pioneering spirit. Certainly, this runs counter to our commitment to build a diverse and inclusive campus community as a fundamental element of excellence. While there was some discussion among the committee members of the possibility of modernizing the Boone image, this generated little enthusiasm."
DU did say that alumni and students could continue to use the character's likeness, though. So the group brought Boone back on an unofficial basis in 2009, creating memorabilia and a costume that a student wore to numerous sporting events and other school activities. DU also briefly experimented with a new mascot, Ruckus the red-tailed hawk, but the bird didn't get a lot of support. So at the moment, DU doesn't have an official mascot, says university spokeswoman Jordan Ames, though the school is researching the possibility of creating one in the near future.
But Boone hasn't gone away — and neither have the hard feelings.
The latest skirmish came last Friday during, yes, the filming of a DU "Harlem Shake" video for YouTube. (Don't know what the Harlem Shake craze is? Google it and then return to this story — if you can keep yourself from watching more Harlem Shake videos. They can be kind of addicting in an embarrassing sort of way.)
The incident occurred around 1:30 p.m., when a group of students who had a permit to use the area outside the Driscoll Student Center began filming their video with someone dressed up as Boone, Ames says. (See that video at westword.com, along with a list of our ten favorite Harlem Shake videos, at backbeatblog.com.) "Campus safety was contacted about three students who became pretty confrontational" in their protests of the not-mascot; the three students were offered alternatives as to where they could publicly protest, but became confrontational with campus security as well before finally leaving, Ames continues, then adds: "Our campus safety is not aware of any complains about the way it was handled."
But there was at least one complaint. In a letter to Westword, one of the protestors writes, "The students were physically shoved out of the perimeter even though they were also members of the university. They were also told that their organization was not allowed to be at the event."
The letter writer went on to say that Boone is a racist mascot and that "this sort of discrimination needs to be addressed and cannot go shoved under the carpet."
Ames says this is the first she's heard of any protests over Boone since 2008, but since Boone just started his own Facebook page and Twitter account as part of a new effort to get himself reinstated, she's likely to hear more soon.