Hey Reb! Are you racist?
UNLV has posted an online survey to gauge the community’s feelings on the school’s mustachioed mascot “so that a meaningful discussion can be had around this topic” at the December Board of Regents Meeting.
Amid new concerns over symbols of the Confederacy in the aftermath of the racially-inspired shooting of black churchgoers June 17 in Charleston, S.C., Sen. Harry Reid said Nevada should reconsider the “Rebels” nickname and mascot for UNLV.
“I believe that the Board of Regents should take that up and take a look at it,” Reid said in June. “It’s up to the Board of Regents and I think they should take a look at it.”
UNLV’s original mascot was closely connected to the Confederacy, but has long since been changed to depict a mountain man.
UNLV’s nickname and mascot date to the university’s origin as Nevada Southern in the mid-1950s, when it positioned itself as the Southern counterpart to the more established UNR and its Wolf Pack moniker.
The student government — named the Confederated Students of Nevada Southern — created Beauregard, a cartoon wolf clad in a Confederate Civil War uniform, as the school’s first official mascot to “rebel” against UNR and its Wolf Pack mascot.
According to school history, the football team’s helmets were decorated with Confederate flag decals during one season and the student newpaper also carried the symbol on its masthead for a time.
In the early 1970s, a group of African-American student-athletes voiced objection to the Confederate imagery surrounding the mascot and in 1976, students voted to officially banish Beauregard but retained the Rebels name.
Beauregard was replaced briefly by a Revolutionary War soldier, but UNLV went largely without a mascot until 1982, when Hey Reb! was created by former Review-Journal artist Mike Miller, who said his inspiration came from the western mountain men of the 1800s who ventured into uncharted Nevada.
“Pathfinders were severely independent people who went all around the West looking for new trails, agriculture, gold mining, and everything,” Miller, who died in 2014, said in a 2011 interview.
Hey Reb! made his debut at a UNLV-UNR basketball game on Dec. 9, 1982. Miller had included the name on his initial sketches to encourage people to call out to the mascot at games.
Over the years, Hey Reb! has had a few image tweaks. The original was armed with a rifle and later held a pistol. When UNLV decided to ditch the firearms in 1997, Hey Reb! got some beefy muscles and a bigger mustache to maintain his bravado. “He’s all cut and strong like a UFC fighter now,” Miller said in 2011.
Shortly after Reid made his comments in June, Regent James Dean Leavitt told the Review-Journal that UNLV had fully shed its controversial image and he wondered aloud whether Reid knew the history of the nickname and mascot before commenting.
“My guess is not,” Leavitt said. “But it’s an important topic to discuss so the public understands that portion of the (history of the) mascot.”
Also in June, Regent Cedric Crear, who chairs the board’s cultural diversity committee, said he planned to ask UNLV leadership to host a public discussion gauging public concern over the school’s nickname and its mascot, which he feels can be construed as racially insensitive.
“They’re a strong representation of the university and of Southern Nevada,” said Crear, who is African-American. “This is probably a good time to have a conversation regarding how it affects communities in 2015 versus the ’70s. A lot has changed.”
The Twitter account, @UNLVRebellion, which describes itself as the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels student section, posted several tweets in support of Hey Reb! on Tuesday night after the school posted the survey.
The Rebellion, which ended each tweet with “#WeStandWithHeyReb,” posted links to the survey and to stories on the history of the mascot and on UNLV being ranked No. 2 on U.S. News & World Report’s annual list for “best ethnic diversity,” maintaining a spot in the top 10 for the fifth straight year.
It also posted the following pair of tweets from Alex Pereszienyi: “In all seriousness, #HeyReb has long since disassociated any derogatory or offensive meaning. It stands for the resilience of this city, the community, and its inhabitants. The Rebel spirit is embodied in #HeyReb and its a real disservice to advance an agenda through HeyReb.”