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UW Wants More Students And Cowboys?

Tennessee Watson
Wyoming Public Radio

The University of Wyoming (UW) officially launched its controversial new marketing plan with a presentation, Tuesday, to orient staff to the campaign's central slogan: “The world needs more cowboys.” But it’s raised the question: what about more cowgirls?

Chad Baldwin, the UW communications director, said the idea was that cowboy could include anyone who embodies the traits of curiosity, boldness and courage.

“Let’s create a situation where rather than the bucking horse and rider becoming an anachronism that’s an object of scorn, let’s make it an asset,” said Baldwin. “Let’s make it something that represents forward-looking, diverse characteristics.”

At the presentation, Baldwin shared a promo video that shows a diverse group of individuals doing everything from science experiments to contemporary dance.

Christine Porter, a UW professor, organized a gathering just outside the official presentation to show support for those who feel marginalized by the new slogan. She said, while there are women on campus who are proud to identify as cowboys, she’s not one of them. She added that it’s not because there’s anything inherently wrong with the word cowboy.

“Cowboys are cowboys. How could that be sexist? You call a cowboy who he is,” said Porter. “But what is sexist, for sure, is a slogan that says only cowboys belong at the University of Wyoming. It is sexist to say that only boys belong at the University of Wyoming.”

Porter expressed concern that using the term "cowboy" in a campaign designed to increase enrollment at a public university may send the wrong message to prospective and current students about who belongs, and could hinder diversity.

The gender-neutral “cowpoke” was considered, according to Baldwin, but it was ruled out because it’s not as recognizable.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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