For decades, Wyoming has enjoyed a dual identity as the Equality State and the Cowboy State. Like many Wyomingites, we take pride in those nicknames and believe the two identities can co-exist, as they have for generations. That’s why it was galling when Wyoming’s cowboy identity came under fire recently.
The University of Wyoming’s new campaign tagline seemed simple enough: “The World Needs More Cowboys.” But some UW faculty members criticized the slogan, calling it sexist and racist. The director of American Indian studies at UW told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the new slogan is “more than one step backwards. It’s several steps backwards.”
As the controversy heated up and gained national attention last week, many Wyomingites defended the tagline and the state’s cowboy heritage. University leaders gave the slogan their support, as the UW Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to move forward with the marketing campaign.
We agree with their decision, and don’t see the tagline “The World Needs More Cowboys” as offensive.
For one thing, it draws on the university’s longtime mascot. If UW can’t use its cowboy image for a marketing campaign, then by that logic, the university needs to find a new mascot altogether.
That would become a problem for the whole state of Wyoming, not just the university. We have long branded ourselves as the Cowboy State, and the famous bucking horse and rider is our trademark.
Wyoming’s history with the now-iconic cowboy symbol is long and rich. The state’s first use of the bucking horse and rider goes back to 1918, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office. During World War I, the symbol was used by the Wyoming National Guard.
“The insignia was then used extensively by Wyoming units during out-of-state and overseas duty, including Korea and Vietnam, and was a rallying point, a symbol of pride and a reminder of home, the Great State of Wyoming, to our troops,” says the Secretary of State’s website.
Decades later, the cowboy remains a symbol of pride — not just for UW, but for all of Wyoming. We’re proud of what cowboys represent: Hard work, honesty, integrity and adventure as well as a love for animals, people and the land.
UW’s efforts to broaden and celebrate what it means to be a cowboy should be commended.
A video that’s part of the new campaign proclaims: “The world needs more cowboys and not just the kind that sweep you off your feet and ride into the sunset. Ours are diverse cowboys, who come in every sex, shape, color and creed.”
While some UW faculty told the Casper Star-Tribune they’re skeptical the university could redefine the stereotypical view of a cowboy — as a straight white man — this past week shows it’s possible. Amid the controversy, women and men of different ethnicities and backgrounds talked about the definition of a cowboy. Many focused on the positive attributes of Wyoming cowboys and cowgirls.
All of the recent news stories, social media posts and conversations gave the University of Wyoming an unexpected platform for its new campaign, reaching across the nation. While UW is using the national attention to redefine a “cowboy,” it’s a good reminder for Wyomingites to broaden our own perspectives, strive to be inclusive and welcome those with diverse backgrounds and views.
Let’s show why we’re proud to be known as the Cowboy State and Equality State — and that it is possible to be both.