A marketing campaign adopted by the University of Wyoming in Laramie centered on the slogan: “The world needs more cowboys” has run into trouble as faculty members and Native American groups say it excludes women and people of color.
The motto was to be featured in promotional materials sent to prospective students, but complaints about its message, from a campus with a diverse, 12,000-strong student population, prompted the school’s board of trustees to take up the issue this week.
The state’s flagship college said the tag line anchored a broader campaign showing images of people of different races and genders.
“In a vacuum, the term ‘cowboy’ appears gender and perhaps race specific but in the context of the branding campaign it is connected to images and words that show our cowboys are diverse, of every sex and background,” university spokesman Chad Baldwin said.
Darrell Hutchinson, cultural specialist with the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming, said the slogan implied that people who do not fit the stereotypical image of a cowboy – a white man with a wide-brimmed hat riding the range on horseback – are not welcome.
“If you’re not a white person and especially if you’re an Indian, it would make you feel out of place - it wouldn’t make you feel too good about yourself,” he said.
The issue is charged in Wyoming, the so-called Cowboy State, where the university’s beloved football team is called the Cowboys and whose emblems depict a rider on a bucking horse, hat in upraised hand.
The state prides itself on perseverance and rugged individualism, qualities associated with the cowboy in American literature and Hollywood Westerns.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said ranchers worried that the dispute was casting aspersions on a time-honored way of life and work.
“We are proud of the true image of the real cowboy or cowgirl, often of very diverse race or ethnicity, riding the range on a well-groomed horse while sporting a cowboy hat, chaps, spurs and a rope,” he said in a statement.
Christine Boggs, co-chair of the Committee on Women and People of Color at the university, said she had no criticism of cowboys, since her father was one, but added: “If we’re striving to be a diverse university, exposing our students to a broader scope of ideas, we have to invite them in a more positive, inclusive way.”
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Wyoming; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney