The Western cowboy is getting a rough ride in Wyoming.
University of Wyomingprofessors are bucking a plan to adapt the rugged-straight-white-male symbol of TV and movies to a new school marketing campaign.
They oppose the new ad slogan, “The World Needs More Cowboys.”
“This is a sexist slogan,” said the president of the faculty senate. Other professors interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education called it subtly racist and hostile to American Indians.
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In Fort Worth, we debate about the cowboy too. But when it comes to tourism, he’s our cash cow.
“Sounds to me like a bunch of vegans,” said Steve Murrin, freshly turned 80 and the unofficial “mayor of the Stockyards.”
“We have 2 million visitors who come to get their picture with a cowboy or with their kids up on a steer. It can’t be negative.”
To reach national and international students, Wyoming’s marketing campaign redefines the school mascot, the cowboy.
In the campaign, the cowboy becomes a symbol of an independent mindset, creativity and a persevering way of life.
Galileo was a cowboy. So was Martin Luther King Jr. So is Malala Yousafzai, the 20-year-old Pakistani activist who survived a murder attempt to speak out for women’s education.
The campaign is presented as a “progressive rallying cry … to celebrate those who refuse to accept the constraints of convention.”
(Frankly, it’s similar to UT Arlington’s campaign, “Be a Maverick.”)
The marketing firm tested the message on high school students and said 68 percent came away with a better perception of cowboys, including 56 percent of minority students.
Sounds great. But not to the faculty.
Associate professor Christine Porter, chair of public health, told the Laramie Boomerang newspaper the university is “embarrassing ourselves” and that a better image would be “trailblazers.”
The president of the faculty senate, veterinary sciences professor Donal O’Toole, told the Boomerang that cowboys are viewed elsewhere as someone who “takes risks and can sometimes be a knucklehead.”
He was one of several faculty members calling the term sexist.
In Fort Worth, home of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Kristin Jaworski leads the twice-daily Stockyards longhorn cattle drive.
They call her trail boss.
“We use the word ‘drover,’ “ she said, “but men and women always shared the roles as ranchers.”
It helps to update the story. The cowboys of the West weren’t all white, male or straight. They were men and women who came together from around the world to tame the frontier.
“We’re very proud to represent that diversity,” Jaworski said: “The cattle drovers came from all colors and cultures and occupations.”
At the Billy Bob’s Texas country music nightclub, executive Pam Minick said “cowboy” is almost a gender-neutral term because “women trail drivers were treated just like the men.”
Fort Worth goes through this debate too.
A city economic development study last year found that the cowboy image helped tourism, but didn’t appeal to corporate executives or creative talent.
“Emphasize the city is highly sophisticated while also retaining cowboy/downhome charm,” the study recommended: “Make it more friendly to outside businesses by encouraging more diversity.”
But Minick had just finished an interview with a British reporter about the global appeal of cowboys.
“It’s what sets Fort Worth apart,” she said.
“Without the cowboy, we’re just another Chicago or Atlanta or Minnesota.”
I didn’t dare ask Jerry Jones.