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UNLV Takes Its Stand, But Not in Dixie’s Land, for ‘Rebel’ Nickname

The University of Nevada-Las Vegas commissioned its chief diversity officer to conduct a study on whether the school’s “Rebels” nickname and “Hey Reb!” mascot constitutes institutional racism.

The suggestions aired in the report include replacing “Hey Reb!” with “a non-human mascot” not “gendered and raced,” creating a “blended” family of mascots exhibiting “expanded skin tones” that one campus group rejected as “heteronormative,” and depicting “Hey Reb!” as a single parent of a character called “Baby Reb!”

But ultimately the position endorsed in the 60-page paper calls for keeping the nickname and its surrounding symbolism.

The November memorandum from Rainier Spencer to UNLV President Len Jessup came as a result of Harry Reid urging the his home state’s flagship university to examine the appropriateness of the moniker and imagery in the wake of Dylann Roof murdering parishioners in an African-American church in South Carolina. The Senate minority leader, despite Nevada coming into the union—as its “Battle Born” nickname implies—during the Civil War, urged “the Board of Regents” to “take that up and take a look at it.”

So, UNLV did.

“After researching the history of UNLV’s Rebels nickname and several mascots, after conducting a Listening Exercise with a variety of on-campus and off-campus constituencies, and after reviewing and analyzing the most common arguments presented against the nickname and current mascot,” Spencer informed, “I have concluded that there is no reason for eliminating either the Rebels nickname or the Hey Reb! mascot due to any Confederate connection. In other words, neither the Rebels nickname nor Hey Reb! have a Confederate connection.”

Yet, Spencer concedes that the union-state school briefly affixed Confederate battle flags on its football helmets and until about four decades ago promoted a non sequitur Southern mascot named “Beauregard.”

The report records “near unanimous” support for the school’s “Rebel” reputation. Stacey Augmon, a star player on the school’s national championship basketball team and now an assistant coach, proved an outlier in telling the investigator that administrators should think about changing the nickname.

Spencer, founder of the school’s African-American studies department, believes objections over the school’s symbols stem from misinformation and poor marketing. Hey Reb! “should be introduced more fully, in a way that was never actually done previously,” he suggests. “His role as an 1800s pathfinder should be explained. What does he do? How does he live? Does he have a horse? What is the extent of his travel outside the southern region of Nevada? Is he multilingual? What does he eat? Does he prepare his own food? How difficult is it for him to find water? What is the purpose of his various articles of clothing and his accessories? Perhaps the History Department could be enlisted in providing some of the content for this introduction.”

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