Student leaders at the University of Utah, the flagship public campus in the conservative state, are pressing to change the school’s century-old fight song “Utah Man,” saying it needs to be more inclusive of women and minorities.
Written in 1904, the song includes phrases and language that could be considered sexist or racist, including the line “our coeds are the fairest,” outgoing student body president Sam Ortiz, who is leading the push, said on Wednesday.
Student officers at the Salt Lake City school passed a resolution on Tuesday asking for an update of the lyrics.
“I don’t necessarily believe the intention was to be discriminatory, but I do believe that at the time that song was written, our society was far more exclusive,” Ortiz said. “That was the reality of the era.”
Among suggested changes were to remove the reference to the “fairest” coeds, which Ortiz said could be insensitive to women and students of color, replacing it with the phrase “our students are the brightest.” He also suggested changing the song’s title, “Utah Man,” to “Utah Fan.”
Opponents of the change cite discomfort with altering a long-held tradition. More than 2,700 have joined a “Utah man am I” page on Facebook, and a sports radio program has planned a campus opposition rally for Thursday.
“Some traditions should be set aside like flying the Confederate flag, but I and many students and alumni proudly sing, “I am a Utah man, sir,” said 1971 graduate Karen Crompton.
Historically, many U.S. universities have changed nicknames or fight songs for reasons including racial sensitivity or because terms had become outdated.
The resolution now goes to University President David Pershing. It’s not clear if Pershing can act on his own or if the school’s academic senate would need to approve a change.
“Since there is no policy or precedent in place for advancing a resolution on the fight song, President Pershing is taking some time to consider how best to proceed in honoring this request from student leaders,” university spokeswoman Maria O’Mara said in a statement.
Written by onetime Utah football coach Harvey Holmes, the song is popular with students, alumni and fans. The university was founded in 1850 as the University of Deseret by a board established by then-Mormon church President Brigham Young. Utah was not yet a state and the territory was predominately populated by white Mormon settlers.