UNLV president rejects calls to abandon Rebels mascot

University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Len Jessup said Monday that the school will not be abandoning its “Rebels” nickname, though he did endorse updating the mascot.

In a statement posted on the school’s website, Jessup announced that he had arrived at the decision after reviewing a report compiled by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Rainier Spencer—which found overwhelming student support for both the nickname and mascot— in response to concerns that the name might be considered offensive.

“We must keep the term ‘Rebels’ as our nickname,” Jessup decrees in the statement, saying the name is part of the school’s shared identity and is not only unrelated to the Confederacy, but in fact was adopted as a deliberate effort to distance the university from that cause.

“It was coined as our young institution was fighting to establish its own identity, and it has come to represent the very independence and spirit that embodies both UNLV and Southern Nevada,” Jessup explains. “Through its history as a community, Las Vegas has also adopted the spirit of a rebel, defying convention and applying its entrepreneurial spirit to achieve things others said were not possible.”

In fact, Jessup points out that contrary to the worries expressed by some, the “Hey Reb!” mascot was adopted in 1982 “specifically with the guiding principle that it be free of any Confederate symbolism and representative of the rebellious spirit synonymous with our region’s history.”

The school’s previous mascot was a wolf named Beauregard, which sparked protest in the 1970’s due to its explicit Confederate symbolism.

Nonetheless, given the concerns voiced by some that the mascot “doesn’t fully represent the university’s diversity mission,” Jessup does concede that “we should evaluate the need to freshen the mascot’s costume and related marketing images”—an update that would have been due in 2016 anyway based on the school’s tendency to update the image roughly every 10 years.

UNLV’s student newspaper, however, received no such protection from Jessup, who stated, “I have asked Dr. Spencer to approach the Advisory Board of the student newspaper—The Rebel Yell—and request an evaluation regarding a name change, given the roots of the term with the Confederate South.”

As an independent publication, however, Jessup notes that the paper’s student leaders and advisory board will have ultimate discretion over whether to change the name.

“These decisions may not please everyone, and I steadfastly support diversity of opinion,” Jessup concludes, noting that he has been pleased with the quality of dialogue that has taken place at UNLV of late. “It is appropriate to pause and reflect from time to time to ensure we are on the right path, just as our forward-thinking students and administration did in the 1970s with a similar debate.”

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