Time to get rid of UNLV's racist mascot

By Jonathan Bradley

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to the acting president, students, faculty and staff at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For the third time in six years I am writing to you to beg that we change the name of the UNLV mascot. I am including in this letter statements from my previous letters. Each time I have written to you it has been at moments in the history of America and the history of UNLV when racism has been brought to the forefront of the social consciousness. Now the movements to end systemic racism embedded in our institutions and culture has the backing of more than 70 percent of the American people and the support of people all around the world. I strongly suggest to the administration and students of UNLV that it is finally time to change the name of the UNLV mascot. I ask that we be bold, stand up to the re-legitimization of racism that is plaguing our great nation, and make this small change towards a better America.

Our mascot’s history is clearly listed on the UNLV webpage “Hey Reb! And ‘Rebels’ Nickname.” Even on this page a good portion of the text is in defense of the name over its association with the secessionist South which broke away and fought the United States of America in order to maintain slavery. No matter what the revisionist history of the Civil War is, the common denominator in all arguments and history is slavery. The Civil War was started to maintain the immoral practice of enslaving black Americans for profit. It was a war waged by secessionist “rebels.” Our own webpage admits this connection, attempts to defend maintaining of the name, and tries to deflect criticism. 

The most ardent argument is the name is a symbol of our rebellion from northern control by the University of Nevada, Reno and the state government in Carson City. This is also an allusion to the “Noble Lost Cause” argument which is rife throughout revisionist history of the Civil War. Yes, Nevada Southern, as UNLV was once known, did stand against the power center of Nevada in the 1950s, but that time is now long past. We are the “Flagship University of Nevada.” Las Vegas is the economic generator of the state, and Southern Nevadans have worked diligently for the past 50 years to change the power dynamic of state politics and culture. We are no longer the rebellious south. We are now Nevada.

Nevada became a state in order to assist President Lincoln’s re-election, and to ratify the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery. Our creation as a state is on the broken chains of slavery. It is impossible to deny our role in that history, and it should not be denied in any way. Our history as a state should be championed at every turn. Our mascot’s name is in clear protest and denial of that proud history. It is a blemish on the proud state of Nevada, the Battle Born State, the Civil War born state, which greatly contributed to the end of that necessary war to end an unjust rebellion against the United States of America.

I graduated from UNLV with my Master’s in Political Science in 2012 and my PhD in Political Science in 2019. I am a proud double alumnus of UNLV. I have been teaching at UNLV for the past eight years. Many of my UNLV students are people of color and/or international students. UNLV, and I, proudly tout UNLV’s rank as the most diversified campus in the U.S. In my first lessons I proudly talk about the diversity of our campus, how it makes us strong, and how it is a reflection of America. However, with every positive comment I make about our great university and its diversity, I know, in the back of my mind, that there is an ugliness attached to it through the name of the mascot which greatly marginalizes our proud claim to being the most diversified campus. It is strange to champion our diversity, while still honoring the wrong side of the darkest chapter in our shared American history.

Lastly, I wish to address the claim that we as UNLV faculty and students know the mascot’s name does not represent racism. I believe this to be mostly true. However, I am not worried about how we as UNLV students and faculty perceive the name. I am worried about how the growing number of racist, neo-fascist, and neo-Nazi groups in our country, who use any symbol they can to propagate their hatred and lies, see the name “Runnin’ REBEL,” and read its history. The history of the name goes lockstep with the history that continues to propagate racism and bigotry in our country. The same symbols of the Confederacy that populate parts of our nation are defended with the same arguments we use to defend our mascot’s name. Our mascot’s name is the same as the symbols of segregation, slavery, and the wrong side of the Civil War which have become the rallying points for white nationalist. As much as we should change the name because it is bad, we should change it because the forces of division and hate think that it is good.

I thank you for your time and attention. I hope that this letter rekindles a still much debate and adds more voice to a needed change which will make us a better UNLV. I am a proud member of the UNLV community. However, I am not a proud “UNLV mascot’s name.”

Jonathan Bradley, Ph.D., is a part-time instructor of political science at UNLV.