U Denver takes a stand, will keep 'Pioneer' moniker

The University of Denver has decided to keep its historic “Pioneer” nickname.

The decision comes after several years of student activism and decisions from university leadership.

After a multi-year saga, the University of Denver has decided to keep its “Pioneer” mascot.

University of Denver Chancellor Jeremy Haefner said in a statement that the school will be “emphasizing more than ever the positive associations of the word, which describe our goals for our collective future.”

Instead of removing the nickname, the university will “use the contested definition of the Pioneer moniker to educate, learn and uncover why this word embodies both pain and pride.”

“What we avow is the pioneering spirit — the courage and resilience to think and act boldly; to break through barriers as explorers, innovators, and frontrunners into the future,” affirmed the statement.

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One Denver-area activist commented that the “very people who DU lauds as Pioneers were actually killers and rapist who STOLE Native land.” 

In her words, the university’s move was “imperialism, but make it chic.”


The University of Denver has used the “Pioneer” moniker for nearly a century. 

The school most recently reaffirmed its use of the term in 2018.

“The Board and the senior leadership of the University have no plans, no efforts and no intentions of changing our nickname,” University of Denver Board chair Doug Scrivner said in a 2018 email. “We proudly claim the name Pioneers in all its dimensions. While our history, like that of all institutions, is complicated and reasonable minds can differ in their assessments, we will endeavor to continue to explore the good and the bad, but in all cases we will own and learn from our history. And being Pioneers is part of both our history and our future.”

At the time, the university also changed its website’s home page to read “We are the University of Denver. We are Denver Pioneers.”

In 2019, however, Campus Reform reported on the University of Denver’s failed attempt to replace its mascot, “Denver Boone,” as well as the Pioneer nickname. 

The school only removed the word “pioneer” from student IDs, as well as other university documents.

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A few months prior, the university had changed the name of its “Pioneer Award” to the “Crimson and Gold Awards.” It also altered the name of its freshman orientation from Pioneer Passage to “New Student Convocation.”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Denver but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft