Wyoming is known as both the Cowboy State and the Equality State. But it can’t be both, at least according to some progressive faculty at the University of Wyoming who claim the word “cowboy” is inherently racist and sexist. Thankfully, administration isn’t buying the politically correct grousing.
The controversy began when the University of Wyoming developed a new marketing slogan: “The world needs more cowboys.” The recruitment materials feature photos of a diverse range of students, employees and alumni who embody Western independence and intrepidness. The slogan is apropos given that the university’s athletic teams are the Cowboys and Cowgirls.
Some 30 faculty members complained about the new slogan. Communications professor Tracey Owens Patton told administrators that the word “‘cowboy’ is seen as a code for white men only complete with guns, subjugation and objectification of women, and the macho swagger.” As proof, Ms. Patton cited her own book, “Gender, Whiteness and Power in Rodeo.”
The university’s Committee on Women & People of Color said the new slogan casts the university “as a place where only people who identify with white, male, and able-bodied connotations of ‘cowboy’ belong.” In a letter, the group urged president Laurie Nichols to kill the campaign, tartly adding that “we also do not feel that it is our job to come up with an alternative or acceptable slogan.”
These supposed scholars ignore cowboy culture’s diverse history. The rodeo stars range from black cowboy Myrtis Dightman, who was ranked the world’s top bull rider in 1967, to Maggie Parker, the first woman to win Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association cash while competing against men. Then there are the men and women who still do tough ranch work with no public acclaim.
By the way, the school’s campaign is working. The University of Wyoming hired a market-research firm to test its persuasiveness with prospective students. Before watching a campaign video, only 25% said they’d consider applying but 41% said so after viewing. The test data also showed the marketing materials resonated with students of color.
Political correctness spreads like tumbleweed, but the University of Wyoming is showing the same grit that it is advertising. On Thursday the board of trustees voted unanimously to keep the cowboy slogan. And they released one advertising video, though the marketing campaign wasn’t scheduled to launch until September. “A cowboy is not what you are, but who you are,” spokesman Chad Baldwin said. In this era of identity politics, thank you.