A Question and a Promise
“When are we going to get a new mascot on the field? Will the students have any say so in determining what comes next?”
When Artair Rogers was elected to serve as ASB President in February, 2009, these questions were not on his radar. His platform had nothing to do with the mascot, and it was not on his agenda. But after his inauguration in April, 2009, he quickly learned these questions were on the minds of students. By the summer of 2009, just a few months into his term, Artair had heard them over and over. So had Peyton Beard, the newly appointed ASB director of athletics and president of the Ole Miss Cardinal Club.
At that point, it had already been six years since there had been an on-field mascot, and Ole Miss was the only school in the SEC without an identifiable on-field character to represent its teams. The mascot was a regular topic of conversation on campus and in the pages of The Daily Mississippian. There was a lot of chatter among students about whether it was time to develop a new mascot to represent today’s energy and momentum at Ole Miss. Some students had even begun meeting informally to brainstorm about mascot ideas. It was clear momentum was gathering to take some action.
With the slogan “A Student Voice for a Student Vision” as its promise to the student body, the ASB knew that the mascot issue would not remain unresolved. As a movement for a new mascot began to gain strength, ASB leadership wanted to assure the student body would have a voice in the process to develop whatever would come next. Student leaders determined that they should include the mascot issue in early conversations with the new chancellor as soon as he began work in July, 2009.
Welcome to Ole Miss
“So, when are we going to get an on-field mascot for the Rebels?”
It might not have been the first question he wanted to answer, but it’s one several students posed to Dan Jones his first few weeks as chancellor at Ole Miss. While the mascot issue was not on his agenda to tackle in his first year — let alone his first months in office — Chancellor Jones acknowledged the mascot issue would not lie dormant forever. Because he believed school spirit was primarily a student issue, if the students wanted to assure student participation and take the lead in developing and proposing a new mascot, then the Chancellor promised to support student efforts.
But Chancellor Jones made clear to student leaders that the University would not revisit the 2003 decision to remove the prior mascot from the field. Chancellor Jones also made clear that any new mascot would represent the Ole Miss Rebels; the University did not intend to change its athletics colors or team names.
Chancellor Jones and the students agreed that any student-led process should be transparent and inclusive, and that student leaders should make certain that the student-body supported moving forward. Chancellor Jones and student leaders also realized that neither the students nor anyone else at the University had any experience in developing a mascot, and any student group would likely need professional advice. So Chancellor Jones made a commitment; if the students decided to move forward, he would offer them the support of the Ramey Agency, a Mississippi-based, full service marketing, advertising, and branding firm to advise and guide the students through an inclusive, creative process following a “best-practices” model.
In light of these conversations, in the Fall of 2009 ASB leadership began to consider next steps. But the ASB was fully engaged in other projects and issues, and the ASB was not certain if the student body was ready to take-on the mascot issue.
Student on a Mission
As ASB leaders considered next steps and dealt with other, more pressing issues, Sophomore Koriann Porter took action. When she had attended a retreat for a campus organization in the spring of 2009, the mascot issue had been a major topic of discussion. Koriann and the other students agreed it was time to do something about the mascot. It was time to discuss the issue in a positive way; a way that would encourage interaction among the different groups at Ole Miss.
With help from a cross-section of students, including several who had participated in the spring retreat, Porter devised a petition to address the subject and create dialogue. The petition asked one simple question: “Do you want a new on-field mascot for the Ole Miss Rebels?” On Aug. 23, 2010, Porter with help from several other students began collecting signatures in support of the petition. By Nov. 30, more than 10 percent of the student population had signed the petition in favor of fielding a new mascot.
Based upon these signatures, at the end of the fall semester Porter and other ASB leaders proposed a bill in the ASB Senate to put the issue before the students in the form of a vote. In light of the facts that Ole Miss had gone without an on-field mascot for seven football seasons and that the University did not intend to revisit the 2003 decision removing “Colonel Reb” as the mascot, the ASB Senate resolved to ask the students whether they would “support a student-led effort to develop and propose a new on-field mascot for the Ole Miss Rebels.”
The Students Vote To Move Forward
In the days leading-up to the vote, campus discussion reached a fever-pitch, and grass roots support coalesced around one central theme: the students wanted to assure a strong student voice in developing a new mascot to represent today’s Ole Miss Rebels.
In the Feb. 23, 2011 referendum, more than 3000 students voted. An overwhelming 74 percent voted a resounding YES in support of a student-led effort to develop and propose a new on-field mascot that represents the spirit and energy of today’s Ole Miss Rebels.
Selecting a Mascot Committee
Immediately after the vote, ASB President Artair Rogers convened an ad hoc committee of student leaders to select the group of students who would lead Ole Miss through the process of developing and proposing a new mascot. This ad hoc selection committee consisted of two student athletes representing the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the student leaders who serve on the Student Leaders Advisory Committee (SLAC), which is composed of the leaders of the comprehensive student organizations on campus (e.g., ASB, Student Programming Board, IFC/Panhellenic/NPHC, RHA, Student Media, etc…).
Ninety-seven students applied to serve on the Mascot Selection Committee by the March 11, 2009 application deadline. Over Spring Break, the members of the ad hoc committee of student leaders evaluated all 97 applications, and decided to interview as many as 45 of the applicants.
Over the weekend of March 26-28, the ad hoc committee of student leaders interviewed applicants and, and on March 29, 2010, they selected a committee of 17 students to serve on the Student Mascot Committee.
The Mascot Selection Committee is led by two co-chairs, Ty New, a junior business administration major from Olive Branch, and Margaret Ann Morgan, a freshman journalism major from McComb. The committee includes three freshmen, three sophomores, six juniors, one senior, and three graduate or professional school students. Twelve of the student committee members are from Mississippi, and five are from other states.
The Mascot Selection Committee Begins Work
The Mascot Selection Committee began work that very night, meeting with ASB President Artair Rogers and Peyton Beard, president of the Cardinal Club, who charged the committee and formally “passed the baton” to the new committee.