UNLV Purges Yosemite Sam-Style Mascot

UNLV Rebels mascot Hey Reb / Getty Images
June 23, 2020

In 1983 the University of Nevada-Las Vegas replaced its Confederate mascot with a mountain man bearing a striking resemblance to Yosemite Sam. The cartoonish mustache and complete lack of Confederate garb, however, were not enough to save him from administrators, who last week removed a statue of the mascot following student complaints about its "racist roots."

UNLV president Marta Meana announced on June 16 that the school would remove a statue of the "Hey Reb!" mascot from its alumni center, citing the national civic unrest and petition to remove the "racist" mascot.

"I wanted to let you know that the Hey Reb! statue in front of the Tam Alumni Center was taken down this evening. In recent conversations with the donor we mutually agreed it was best to remove the statue and return it," the statement reads. "Over the past few months, I have had discussions with multiple individuals and stakeholder groups from campus and the community on how best the university can move forward given recent events throughout our nation. That includes the future of our mascot."

The announcement followed a pressure campaign organized by ex-Salon writer and assistant professor David Morris. Morris claimed that the cartoonish mascot depicted in the statue must be removed because its predecessor sported a Confederate uniform from 1968 to 1976.

"UNLV's current mascot, the 'Rebel' is racist and is rooted in a Confederate mythology which has no place on our campus," the English professor said in a petition. "Having a mascot that is inextricably connected to a failed regime whose single aim was to preserve the institution of slavery is an embarrassment to our campus and to our community." The petition has garnered almost 5,000 signatures. Morris did not respond to requests for comment.

The school's original mascot was a cartoon wolf named "Beauregard," who wore a Confederate uniform to signify his rebellious nature. In 1976, African-American student-athletes voiced concerns about Beauregard's outfit, and soon after, the student Senate banished the mascot. UNLV briefly used a colonial soldier as its mascot, but in 1982 a local artist created Hey Reb!, inspired by "western trailblazers of the 1800s who ventured into uncharted Nevada to discover resources and build communities," according to the UNLV website.

Student activists have joined Morris in an effort to run the mascot off campus. The university's Black Student Organization (BSO) said the mascot is inappropriate.

"The statue and mascot symbolized a time of racism. We think it is important to rewrite that history in a positive way because things are different today," a BSO spokesperson told the Free Beacon. "UNLV has a diverse population of students and considering the circumstances of black people in America are facing, it was appropriate to remove [the statue]. It was definitely long overdue and the black leaders on campus shouldn't have had to point it out."

Not everyone in the community is ready to say goodbye. A petition aimed at preserving the "rugged mountain man" statue and mascot has garnered more than 6,000 signatures. The mascot should be evaluated on its merits, rather than the image that appeared six decades ago, according to petition organizer Craig Lake, who said the university should celebrate the fact that it had "rightfully removed" Confederate imagery decades ago. The UNLV alumnus does not expect that activists will be satisfied with removing the statue "if supporters don't stand up and make their voice heard."

"Hey Reb! was specifically redesigned with cultural sensitivities in mind in the '80s," he said. "Most of the detractors don't want to spend the time to ... understand what Hey Reb!, the Rebels, and this community is about."

The fate of Hey Reb! lies in the hands of UNLV president Meana. A university spokesman told the Free Beacon that Meana is on a "listening tour" to decide "how best the university can move forward given recent events throughout our nation."

"No other decisions have been made at this time, including the future of the mascot. The President continues her listening tour with individuals and stakeholder groups," the UNLV spokesman said.