In less than a week, students will have the chance to weigh in on the latest installment of the Ole Miss mascot saga. For those Rebels who have been around through the highs and lows of the mascot debate, it all seems very familiar.
“I think that folks make much too big of a deal when it comes to mascots,” former Dean of Students Sparky Reardon said. “I’ve never seen a mascot win a game, and that’s where fan interest should be. Mascots are for kids.”
Reardon served as an adviser to the student committee that decided on the Black Bear as the school’s new mascot in 2010. Former Miss Ole Miss and 2013 graduate Margaret Ann Morgan served as that committee’s co-chair.
“As someone who’s been through that process before, it’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a lot of people to get to the end result,” Morgan said. “You’re not going to make everybody happy, and you know that.”
Associated Student Body President Dion Kevin III announced Monday that ASB will sponsor a campus-wide student vote next Tuesday to determine if there is student support for changing the school’s mascot from the Black Bear to the Landshark.
The vote, set for the same day as the homecoming personality elections, will not bring about anything immediate but rather give the ASB Senate and executive branch a perspective on how students feel about the potential change.
Kevin said the vote is to gauge students’ opinion on whether or not they would want the Landshark to be the official on-field mascot.
“It’s not a vote to change anything,” Kevin said.
The university released a statement to The Daily Mississippian saying the referendum is student-led but the university is always interested in its students’ perspectives.
“This referendum is a student-led initiative being conducted through an Associated Student Body (ASB) process,” the statement said. “While we will not speculate on the outcome of their process, we value the important role that students play as an active voice in the life of our campus community. We are always interested in the viewpoints of our students.”
Mascot talk resurfaces
ASB Secretary Dylan Wood said the potential mascot change was discussed at an Aug. 31 ASB executive meeting.
“We were told it would be put to a yes or no referendum,” Wood said.
Kevin said rumors about another mascot change have been a campus constant for four or five years.
“I certainly didn’t start the conversation,” Kevin said. “The mascot conversation is something that sort of happens every year with ASB presidents and the athletics director.”
Next week’s vote will only concern the Landshark and the Black Bear. Reed Ashton Kevin, ASB director of communications, said the question will be asked along the lines of “Would you like to see the Landshark as the official mascot of the Ole Miss Rebels?” with a “yes” or “no” option.
“‘Yes’ would mean the student is in support of the change, and ‘no’ would mean that a student simply doesn’t support the Landshark as the official mascot,” she said.
As rumblings of the upcoming mascot vote crept through campus in the opening month of the semester, some students raised questions about which mascot choices would be considered.
Junior international studies major Wess Helton created a petition in early September saying, “We demand … Colonel Reb to be included in the vote alongside the Landshark and Black Bear.”
In the week or so it’s been around, the petition garnered more than 1,000 student signatures before ASB announced the Landshark vote Monday, Helton said.
“Two weeks ago, I got word that Dion Kevin had brought it up. He wanted student vote between the Landshark and Black Bear,” Helton said in a Sept. 10 interview with The Daily Mississippian. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to show the university how much people love Colonel Reb.”
Helton said that after Kevin announced the mascot vote Monday, he’s decided to raise the petition’s goal to collect at least 1,500 more signatures and has been receiving Facebook messages from alumni in support of the petition.
“The fact that they still today concocted this resolution behind closed doors shows that they’re willing to take students’ money, alumni money, but they’re not willing to listen to our opinion,” Helton said.
Kevin said he is familiar with the debate about bringing different mascots to the table and the subject has already been approached multiple times.
“I think it’s pretty clear that Ole Miss is not ready to ever bring back Colonel Rebel, which is really out of the student body’s hands,” he said.
Kevin said he and the ASB Senate would consider a petition with a large number of signatures, even though there is no formal policy mandating that ASB acknowledge student petitions prior to ASB Senate action.
As far as outside input goes, Kevin said this phase of the decision-making process is focused on the student body. He said that later on, the alumni association and other relevant shareholders in the university will be able to lend their opinions, but for the time being, ASB is managing a student vote.
“My responsibility is to speak on behalf of the students,” Kevin said regarding alumni input.
Kevin said he thinks Athletics is ready to start making changes, pending a positive student vote.
Ole Miss Athletics provided a statement to The Daily Mississippian after ASB announced the upcoming student vote:
“This effort is an ASB-led initiative, and the athletics department will be involved at the appropriate time. The leadership of our two organizations have built a strong relationship, and we will work hand-in-hand through this and any matters that are relevant to our game day experience.”
ASB Sen. Hunter Story said he would personally support whatever the outcome of the student election is as long as it allows for students to fully voice their opinions.
Story said the driving force for the campus vote only came from ASB executives, administration and Athletics.
“The mascot options came from the people involved in creating the vote,” Story said. “ASB senators were not asked for input options, and to my knowledge, neither were students.”
What Tuesday’s vote will mean
If the student body shows support for the Landshark, either the ASB Senate or ASB executive branch will decide whether to issue a resolution to the university administration in recognition of the student vote. Kevin said timing will decide whether the resolution comes from his office or the ASB Senate.
“If there’s not time, since we want to hopefully make this announcement around the homecoming date, then we would just issue an executive statement saying the ASB supports the decision from the students, for yes or no, and we present it to the university so they would kind of take over from there,” Kevin said.
ASB erected a painted sign campaigning for the Landshark alongside the signs promoting candidates for the personality elections. Kevin said ASB supports the Landshark because it has been a part of Ole Miss school spirit for nearly a decade now and is something everyone on campus can get behind.
ASB Sen. Brady Kies said the campaign sign surprised him on Monday morning.
“We had no knowledge of this. (Dion) sent us an email (Monday) morning, and I saw the sign on Business Row,” he said.
Kies said a mascot change is a big deal on campus and he wished ASB senators had been included in the planning process. He said hearing about the potential vote two weeks ago did not sit well with him and a group of other senators.
Kevin said both the chancellor and Athletics seem ready to make a change, so it made sense to move forward with a plan this year.
“This year, when it was brought up, I think it was a good time, and we were able to reach some mutual decisions on what could happen with changing the mascot to the Landshark,” Kevin said.
However, if students decide to vote against adopting the Landshark mascot, the administration will respect that decision, Kevin said.
“If it’s a ‘no’ vote, then they’re going to see that the students don’t want the Landshark as the mascot, and so we’ll probably be stuck with the Black Bear,” Kevin said.