“For me, the clearest reason it’s unacceptable is the word ‘boy,’ excluding anyone who identifies as female."

Faculty members at the University of Wyoming think the school's new marketing campaign slogan, “The World Needs More Cowboys,” is sexist and racist.

The slogan -- which focused on the university's mascot: Cowboy Joe --  was pitched in the spring by a private marketing firm hired by the university at a Faculty Senate meeting, the Laramie Boomerang reported Sunday.

"The campaign is intended to help grow the university’s enrollment and raise its profile nationally and internationally, in accordance with our strategic plan," University Director of Communications Chad Baldwin told Pluralist.

One of the stated goals of the campaign was actually to broaden the appeal of the mascot (and, in so doing, of the university) to a more diverse demographic. 

Despite that, and even though the full campaign was not yet revealed at the time, a number of professors were quick to voice vehement opposition, opining that the term "cowboy" is generally exclusionary of women and people of color. 

University of Wyoming logo

“I am not the only person for whom the word ‘cowboy’ invokes a white, macho, male, able-bodied, heterosexual, US-born person,” associate professor Christine Porter, a vocal opponent of the new campaign, told the Boomerang.

Porter acknowledged that the problem lies not with the actual history of cowboys, but with their popular-culture trope. “The history of cowboys, of course, is much more diverse than that racially, and presumably also for sexual orientation. But the image — what the word ‘cowboy’ means off the top of almost everybody’s head in the US — is the white, heterosexual male,” she said.

To support her point, Porter conducted a survey of 200 faculty, staff, students, and others and 97 percent said they first thought of a white male when they pictured a cowboy, reported The Casper Star Tribune Tuesday.

Another concern raised by opponents was that the seemingly-exclusionary language would actually hurt the school's effort to recruit from a more diverse pool of applicants. Angela Jaime, the director of the American Indian Studies department, told the Tribune that the slogan might antagonize Native Americans.

“As the director of American Indian Studies, it becomes incredibly problematic to try to imagine using any of this promotional material when I’m recruiting Native students,” Jaime said. “The term ‘cowboy’ evokes the play time — the racist play time — of cowboys and Indians, right?”

The UW Committee on Women and People of Color sent a letter to University Director of Communications Chad Baldwin and President Laurie Nichols encouraging the university to change the slogan.

The idea behind the slogan: Baldwin is standing by the slogan, explaining that the goal of the marketing campaign was precisely to recast the image of a cowboy and make it more inclusive.

“In my opinion, there are people who are critical of it who haven’t explored what we’re trying to do," he told the Tribune. "A foundational element of the campaign is that we’re recasting the concept of the cowboy so that it represents everyone associated with it.”

Accordingly, Emily Monago, the university’s chief diversity officer, is assuring faculty that, though the slogan alone can seem exclusive, the marketing campaign will pair this with inclusive images of women and people of color, in a quest to redefine the connotations and create a positive environment.

After facing criticism from staff, a promotional flyer was released for the campaign. "Inclusive, by design" was the campaign's subtitle.

"This is not a campaign to reinforce regressive stereotypes of cowboys from the pop cultural past," states the promotional flier. "This is a campaign to rewrite them."

Campaign Guide Screenshot

This flyer has since been replaced by a 32-page campaign guide that includes instructions for the campaign's overview, tone, look, and relevant templates. The campaign guide contains pictures of students of different races, genders, and specialties in order to redefine the of vision of the classic cowboy.

The marketing campaign also edited the campaign's anthem video to be more inclusive.

"Following our discussion with the Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, we made some additions to the language of the anthem video, including more explicit statements about diversity," Baldwin told Pluralist.

"We also solidified a policy of including, with any use of the term “The World Needs More Cowboys” in outside advertising, accompanying visuals that do not show the stereotype of the traditional cowboy," he added.

The video included the following narration: "Our cowboys come in every sex, shape, color, and creed. They come from Wyoming, Montana, Delaware, and Nigeria. Because it’s not what you are that makes you a cowboy or cowgirl, but who you are." It had accompanying visuals presenting a diverse representation of what it means to be a cowboy.

And they have some data to back it up: Research commissioned by the marketing team showed that the campaign could actually succeed in appealing to minorities. They recorded high school students' perception of UW before and after they showed them the anthem video.

Before watching the promotional video, 25 percent of the high schoolers said they would “definitely or probably consider UW," including 36 percent of minority respondents.

After the video, the percentage increased to 48 percent overall and 53 percent among minority respondents. 

Additionally, 56 percent of respondents of color said viewing the video changed their perception of what it means to be a cowboy. 86 percent also said the campaign increases their likelihood to apply.

These statistics were consistent amongst both males and females.

The teenagers also provided explanations on why the video changed their perception of cowboys.

"I no longer just think of the Marlboro Man and see this differently. A cowboy now is someone who takes chances, tries to improve things, and is outgoing," one respondent wrote.

"Cowboys aren't just males. A cowboy is anyone who is strong, smart, persistent," another said.

"The video helped me to understand that the school is much more modern than I imagined," wrote one speaking about UW.

Baldwin also explained that most of the complaints have come from faculty members, not students.

"The only significant opposition has come from within our faculty. Emails and phone calls that have come to my office this week, following publicity about the primary tagline, has been about 10 to 1 in support of “The World Needs More Cowboys.” This has come from residents of the state, UW employees, UW alumni from around the country and other individuals," Baldwin told Pluralist.

But... UW Professor Tracey Patton, who wrote "Gender, Whiteness, and Power in Rodeo: Breaking Away from the Ties of Sexism and Racism," rejects this explanation.

She insists that society must stop using masculine words while "pretending" they relate to both genders.

“For me, the clearest reason it’s unacceptable is the word ‘boy,’ excluding anyone who identifies as female,” Patton told the Boomerang. “In 2018 — and really for the past 20 years — it’s not been acceptable to use the generic male to pretend that includes female.”


The women of Wyoming expressed support for the campaign on Twitter.

Tina Ann Forkner, a parent of a UW student, wrote on Twitter that the word "cowboy" is beyond gender labels and suggested that the university provide women education on ranching.

Self-described "cattlewoman" Dalle Rutledge criticized "extreme feminism" and called on the people of Wyoming to "get tough or get gone."

Kaylee Taylor wrote that those offended by the slogan are unwelcome at her school.