06 November 2014

Monday morning quarterbacking the UTRGV “Vaquero” decision

The University of Texas System is confirming that the mascot for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will be the Vaquero.

I feel sorry for UTRGV president Guy Bailey (third from left; pic from here).

There was just no decision that was going to make people happy. There were a lot of people in Edinburg and McAllen who wanted to keep the University of Texas Pan American’s mascot, Bucky the Bronc. But that choice would have ostracized everyone who had ties to University of Texas at Brownsville.

One of the last surveys showed a lot of people wanted some sort of compromise. That came though in the colour recommendations: UT system orange, plus green from UTPA, plus blue from UTB.

I think Bailey was hoping that “Vaquero” would be that compromise. The word “vaquero” is thought to have morphed into “buckaroo.” Bucky, buckaroo, and there’s a whole horse motif going on... I bet Bailey thought this would be the way to assuage the “Save Bucky” brigade. “There’s still a horse!”

From his opening comments, it was clear that Bailey saw “Vaquero” as Americana that nobody could object to. “Nothing more iconic than a cowboy” is pretty close to what he said in his comments.

While Bailey might have expected that nothing would keep the Bucky fans happy except Bucky, I don’t know if anyone could have anticipated the flames that started pretty much the instant he announced the recommendation.

Having watched this process from the very first meeting at UTPA,“Vaquero” was a name that people suggested. It did not come out of the blue. It was not a random choice from Bailey, or the Board of Regents.

But when it was mentioned as a possibility, I never got, from any of the discussion, a hint of the fury that emerged over the decision. It wasn’t just that people were mad about losing Bucky (which I expected), but the charges erupted almost immediately that the name was racist – and, to a lesser degree, sexist.

I was disappointed to see how fast people trotted out negative Hispanic and Mexican stereotypes on Twitter. Out came the taco and sombrero jokes. I documented a lot of them in my Storify. For me, this was a low point:

Really? I get being upset with the decision. But that? That art’s not okay.

I was also upset by the number of people who said they either would not come to, or wanted to leave, UTRGV because of the mascot. As a faculty member, it bothers me that a foam rubber suit means more to students than the work my colleagues and I do in trying to perform the best possible research and do the best possible jobs of giving students a top notch education.

If the mascot means more to you than the quality of the faculty and staff, I invite you to re-examine your priorities.

I have problems with this choice of mascot. I deeply dislike that it’s “cowboy,” which overlooks that about 60% of UTPA students (and, I’m guessing, UTB students) are female.

There’s already been complaints that people (including Bailey) don’t pronounce it right. Wiki says it’s “baˈkeɾo,” with a B, which makes the connection to “buckaroo” make more sense.

Finally, I think it’s just too obscure a name. I spent years explaining to people where UTPA was. Now I have to look forward to years of explaining what a “Vaquero” is.

It’s interesting to contrast to the decision to name of the institution, where UTRGV bubbled up pretty quickly and had wide community support.

 “Vaqueros” made nobody happy, judging from polls in local media, which show even more rejection of the name than my own. Here’s radio station KURV:

The local newspaper, the McAllen Monitor:

Bailey admitted there was no consensus on the mascot, which must have made his job tough. (Results of one of the last surveys is here. 45% said “none of the above” to the suggested names.) But now, I worry that Guy Bailey has just burned up any support or trust that he might have had from the community.

I wish there had been images like this to go with the announcement. Because, damn, that’s a cool image, and a reminder to me that maybe, just maybe, this name could work.

Update: The UT System has just put out a press release that is, frankly, a little more honest about the pushback than I would have expected.

While the selection drew support from many... it also spurred a backlash on social media, primarily from those who wanted to keep UT Pan American’s nickname, the Broncs.

It then goes on to the “Rah rah rah!” tone more typical of press releases.

Update, 7 November 2014: As I suspected, Bailey argued in the video below that “Vaquero” honors the legacy of the “Bucky” nickname:

External links

Vaquero chosen as UTRGV mascot
The UT-RGV Mascot Saga Ends with The Vaqueros and Apparently Nobody Is Happy 
It’s official: Vaqueros approved as UT-RGV mascot
Opinion: Former school changing mascot, and I’m disgusted

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing is, they put out a survey asking the students, alumni, etc (who are mostly hispanic) if they wanted to identify as Vaqueros, among other options. They said no pretty clearly.

Then President Bailey (who happens to be both white and an outsider) says, no, no, this is who you are!

It disturbs me that no one in our leadership could foresee the potential issues with that move.