Cowboys in the Crosshairs: School’s Slogan Is Sexist and Non-Inclusive, Says This Group

Even so, the University of Wyoming is moving forward with its new motto — choosing smart branding over silly grievances

Cowboys settled the great American West and today are indispensable in running the nation’s cattle ranches — but that’s not stopping one group at the University of Wyoming in Laramie from shunning them.

Opponents of the institution’s new slogan, “The World Needs More Cowboys,” say the word “cowboy” is sexist and non-inclusive.

But the new slogan makes perfect sense, even if the opponents won’t acknowledge it: The University of Wyoming (UW) mascot is a horse called Cowboy Joe, and the university also refers to its students as cowboys. Additionally, UW has several programs that use terms such as “cowboy parents,” “cowboy connect” and “cowboy legacy,” as Campus Reform noted.

The marketing campaign will launch this September in the hopes of attracting new out-of-state students. Yet the UW “Committee on Women and People of Color” wrote a letter in the Laramie Boomerang (a local publication) to university officials demanding they “shelve” the slogan in favor of a new one that “represents the diversity of the people and cultures” at UW.

Perhaps the group should spend less time swapping grievances and more time in the campus library: “Though African-American cowboys don’t play a part in the popular narrative, historians estimate that one in four cowboys were black,” says Smithsonian Magazine.

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And while they might not refer to themselves as “cowgirls,” women hold more than respectable numbers working U.S. ranches and farms.

“Today, counting principal operators and secondary operators, women account for 30 percent of all farmers in the United States, or just under 1 million,” noted the Washington Post in 2016.

Nevertheless, “I am not the only person for whom the word ‘cowboy’ invokes a white, macho, male, able-bodied, heterosexual, U.S.-born person,” associate professor of kinesiology and health Christine Porter told the Boomerang.

“The history of cowboys, of course, is much more diverse than that racially, and presumably also for sexual orientation,” she continued. “But the image — what the word ‘cowboy’ means off the top of almost everybody’s head in the U.S. — is the white, heterosexual male.”

Porter wasn’t finished.

“I care most about our university having a slogan that makes all people feel welcome here. I also care about us not embarrassing ourselves as an institution across the nation. However proud this state is of our cowboy tradition, it just does not translate outside the Rocky Mountain West.”

The university, thankfully, has no plans to tank the slogan.

“We’re casting it so that it’s not gender-specific,” UW’s communications director Chad Baldwin told the Boomerang. “It’s not at all exclusionary. It’s the spirit of the cowboy that we all kind of share in. So, we’re basically throwing away the old stereotypes and updating what it means to be a cowboy and what it looks like. A cowboy is not what you are, but who you are.”

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Baldwin was even more definitive with Campus Reform. “The university is moving forward with the marketing campaign,” he told the publication.

“The criticism of the slogan as being sexist, racist, and offensive simply does not hold water in the context of the overall campaign,” Baldwin added. “‘Cowboys’ is the university’s official mascot and nickname, and the upcoming campaign casts it in a way that we have demonstrated is effective in catching the attention of prospective students from outside Wyoming.”

It remains to be seen what sort of pushback continues to emerge.

Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor with LifeZette. Follow her on Twitter.

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