Story by Jacobia Nuevo
LAS VEGAS, NV – On this day, Juneteenth 2020, we are reminded that a whole civil war had to be fought in the United States to end the bondage of slavery and instate prisons in its place. Let’s remember that this whole Union-North and Rebel-Southern narrative at University of Nevada, Las Vegas has been established before students started school in 1957 at the 80-acre purchase of Indigenous Land on Maryland Parkway for a campus. People were claiming “Rebels” Confederacy propaganda to express their dissent of Northern Control. The Confederate flag and Rebel Yell newspaper popped up before students could even attend classes at UNLV.
UNLV’s Confederate Rebels identity is a magnification of the antiquated thinking of Civil War driven by white supremacists’ ambition to genocide and occupy Black and Indigenous people’s lives and land. Dr. Rainer Spencer’s study acknowledges that the context is the North-South Geography in the State of Nevada located in the U.S. The premise is the South branching out in 1954 with dissent of Northern Nevada’s control of higher education. The Rebel Yell, a UNLV student newspaper, was published on April 20, 1955, with a Confederate flag. Then, a series of Confederate-themed associations were used such as:
“a Confederate Cotillion; crowning of a Southern Belle; the Confederated Students of Nevada Southern name for the student government; and the creation of Beauregard, a winking cartoon wolf mascot believed to be named after a Confederate general and wearing a Confederate uniform, designed to contrast with University of Nevada, Reno’s more ferocious wolf mascot.”- Dr. Spencer, 2015.
The agenda of white supremacy exploits Black and Indigenous people. The Confederate mascot is only one avenue which reinforces a racial caste system and over time, the white supremacist agenda has represented Nevada to be a ‘Mississippi of the West.’ The racial caste system in Las Vegas has a contemporary impact on the health and education of racial minorities expressed through the impact of the school to prison pipeline of Black children and mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. A statue is only a small representation of a pathology of white supremacy. Now, change needs to happen to end racism at UNLV. That change is more than an attempt to morph UNLV Rebel imagery; a positive reconstruction cannot occur while operating under white supremacy because it is an institution that still perpetuates the ideology that Black and Indigenous bodies are capital. We’re trying to ratify the belief system that came with the founders’ antiquated thinking under white supremacy.
In 1962, the Confederate flag on “Rebel Yell” newspaper was removed. In 1969, Beauregard was removed from the “Rebel Yell” as well. By 1975, the image of Beauregard was removed by student vote and a colonial militiaman was adopted. Allegedly, the colonial militiaman was not widely accepted and UNLV went without a mascot from 1977–1982. In 1982, a committee was formed to create a mascot that allegedly had nothing to do with the Confederacy. The Hey Reb! mascot with imagery of an 1800’s Las Vegas pathfinder which emulates Western frontiersperson in red was launched in 1983. From then, UNLV has emphasized a Western pioneer, but it is still dismissive of the historical impact that settler colonialism has on today’s Indigenous communities. Especially at a campus that has not even officiated an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement for the Moapa Band of Pauites. The mascot changes overtime have failed to distance themself from white supremacist connotation because they are in the spirit of the Confederate intent of the Rebel Confederate identity. Also, because the 1800’s trailblazers led the militarized occupation of sacred land under the guise of ‘Manifest Destiny.’ The Southern Band of Paiutes are still fighting for their humanity and sacred lands to this day.
The mascot is more than a momentary lapse in judgement; it is a representation of a systemic issue that continually gaslights Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). Dr. Spencer’s study shows dissenting opinions of the mascot from a local NAACP Chapter and the Black Student Organization on campus. The study also shows the lack of input from the Council of African-American Professionals and Black Graduate Student Association. However, many people who have seen the attrition rates of Black students would fall under the same category as Hannah Brown who said, “I wish UNLV would spend its time on graduating more students instead of worrying about a mascot.” This goes to further show that a debate about the mascot is a symbol of the deeper lying issues of systemic racism at UNLV.
In 2018, UNLV released the most current mascot (featured above). This symbol is supposed to define “Rebels” as resisting authority. If we’re going to keep going with this notion of resisting authority let’s resist oppression such as racism, sexism, and violence against racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and poor people.
A group of UNLV Black Student Leaders representing a variety of groups on campus, have continued to meet with UNLV administration about racial tensions on campus and in the community. It is all too often that Black students are robbed of an environment that encourages their growth and development at institutionalized education. However, students have continually fought back against racist and sexist oppression. Specifically, the Native American Alumni Association and the Native American Student Association have also released statements in favor of removing the statue and changing the mascot. In the most recent meeting with UNLV administration, the mascot and the statue of HeyReb! In front of the UNLV Tam Alumni Center were a topic of discussion and Black student leaders implored administration to take the statue down and move forward with an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement for the Moapa Band of Paiutes. After all, removing a statue that appears racist is a bare minimum step for many cities across the world while they are being forced to address the historical nature of violence against Black and Indigenous groups in which these figures represent. Although President Marta Meana is exiting, she has officially announced that the mascot is up for debate. However, whether or not there is racism on campus is not up for debate. In addition to changing the mascot, there are fundamental changes that can occur at UNLV to combat racism.
Restitution determined by the Native American community in which UNLV inhabits should be honored by the institution. Next, UNLV should end contracts and trainings with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, including traffic control contracts. An increase in financial support for Black, Indigenous, and Undocumented student groups from UNLV would increase the groups’ operating capacity. Financial support in the form of scholarships and research grants for the advancement of marginalized groups, specifically Black, Indigenous, and Undocumented students should be expanded.
At the end of the contract, UNLV should replace Aramark with a company willing to hire Aramark’s employees, if not simply extend the Hospitality Events and Catering Department at UNLV. Then, UNLV should continue to divest from the prison industrial complex as well as the fossil fuel industry. On campus, more Black spaces such as a library, therapy groups for Black students lead by Black professionals, active lobbying for the interest of Black students, and the hiring of more professionals of Color should be made available. Black student leaders are calling on UNLV to decolonize their curriculum by encouraging more Indigenous and Black authors in syllabi. In addition, implementing race and class trainings as requirements for promotions, tenure, new student orientations, and graduation requirements.
As previously mentioned, an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement for the Moapa Band of Paiutes should be directed by Native communities. UNLV should create a commemoration of the Divine 9 on campus. UNLV Administration should continue to actively act in class solidarity with emergency housing for students experiencing houselessness. UNLV should also support a memorial on campus for the community and students who have been harmed by police violence. These ideas have been presented as a start to reimagining the way racial and ethnic minorities experience University of Nevada, Las Vegas.