The Students for Mascot Change held a public forum on April 13 at the Student Resource Building multipurpose room to listen to students’ opinions concerning the recent movement for mascot change. Roughly 15 people, including students and administration, were present at the forum to voice their support or concern against the change.
Although the Mapache, the Spanish word for raccoon, was a popular contender for the change, individuals at the forum spent more time discussing the financial implications of a mascot change. People also talked about modifying the image of Olé the Gaucho rather than replacing him altogether.
A petition called “Change the UCSB mascot to a Mapache” on Change.org has gathered 2,648 signatures. In addition, the Mapache has been a trending subject for memes on the “UCSB Zesty Meme Cuisine for Horny Teens” Facebook page.
Hailey Phelan, a student representative of Students for Mascot Change said that the raccoon might be problematic because “in the name of the raccoon, [Mapache] is a racist word. We have to also be aware of any new problems that might arise from a new mascot.”
James Ferraro, another student representative of Students for Mascot Change, asked whether people should change the mascot when the forum started.
“Perhaps we don’t need a drastic change,” Ferraro said. “We could also pick a new representation of the Gaucho.”
Next, Mario Infante, another student representative of Students for Mascot Change, went into the history of the Gaucho and how he became UC Santa Barbara’s mascot.
“In 1927, a movie came out called “The Gaucho,” and apparently, it was a powerful movie or inspiration for a lot of the student body,” Infante said. “In 1936 the female student population created a movement to change the mascot from the Roadrunners to the Gaucho, and they succeeded. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s to 1990s that all the traditions started to come into being such as the throwing of the tortillas and the black mask on the Gaucho.”
Next, Ferraro asked the forum to discuss whether the current mascot has racial implications.
“Honestly explaining the current mascot is awkward to people who don’t go here. It is definitely a racial trope,” said Ani Vahalia, a second-year biology major. ”A lot of our student population are of color and are already dealing with awkward media representation.”
Vahalia’s comment was met with general approval from the forum, but there were a few people who had a different opinion.
Speaking from a different perspective, Cristian Zapata, a third-year biospychology major, commented, “I don’t think gaucho is racial in any way. I am from Argentina and immigrated here and I have met real gauchos in real life. The name Olé is a term in soccer culture, which is very big in Argentina. Soccer is very prominent in this school and therefore Olé the Gaucho is fitting.”
“It doesn’t matter in the end whether it is racist or not because it just seems racist,” said Leanne Friedrich, a third-year graduate student of UCSB Materials Department. “It’s not worth investing money in this one idea just because it seems bad but no one is certain whether it is racist or not.”
There were also negative implications of changing the mascot. “The biggest obstacles are finance, the ICA, and the alumnis. Our sports team hold on to the Gaucho as a branded image.” Phelan said. “The ICA has mentioned that if we change the mascot it’s going to be a massive cost to renew all the merchandise and brandings. Alumni are showing resistance because they have the motivation to preserve the legacy.”
In response, Vahalia proposed that students choose a different mascot and name it “Gaucho.”
“The image will be very different but you can keep the name so you don’t have to change everything,” Vahalia said.
Dean of Student Life and alumna Katya Armistead supported the idea and said, “I went down to UC Riverside recently for a meeting. They are the Highlanders, but their mascot is Cubby the bear. We can define the Gaucho and attribute our own values to the name. It doesn’t have to be the cowboy.”
As a result, the forum discussed alternate choices for a mascot who could still be called the Gaucho.
“We could have a horse as a mascot because it combines everyone’s ideas. Horses have powerful names like Mustang, and ours could be called the Gaucho,” Vahalia said.
“I like the idea of another representation, but I dislike the horse idea because our rival Cal Poly is the Stallions. In addition, there are too many schools with a bear as their mascot. The Gaucho is unique, and I don’t want to be like those schools,” Zapata rebutted.
The forum also discussed practical ways in which the student body can get involved with the movement. There was a consensus for an increase in education about the Gaucho so that the general population can be more informed.
“This doesn’t have to be a demand for the administration. Y’all can just start doing this. We can just create a campaign and a movement. We don’t have to bring pitchforks to Chancellor Yang,” Armistead said.
Phelan and Infante also suggested implementing an art contest where students can design the new mascot and installing murals and exhibits to educate the general public about the mascot change.
“People are going to ask why we are changing the mascot,” Phelan said.
Ferraro said, “We have the power to change the mascot. It’s going to take multiple years so we are making sure it has a strong foundation.”
The Students for Mascot Change will be hosting more events in the future. According to Ferraro, “we want to incorporate a lot more students into this.”