California university ditches ‘offensive’ Gold Rush themed mascot

Opponents of the mascot say Prospector Pete is "offensive" because he represents a time in California history when violence was used against Native Americans.

California State University, Long Beach announced on September 20 that it will "retire" its Prospector Pete mascot after a decades-long debate over the figure's political correctness.

Those who support retiring the mascot say the school should avoid using a person or group of people for its next mascot, so as to not offend anyone else.

California State University, Long Beach has agreed to ditch its mascot, “Prospector Pete,” because some find 49er imagery “offensive”.

In a statement issued on September 20, CSULB announced it will “retire” its mascot, “Prospector Pete,” a fictional character who represents the California Gold Rush era.

The decision comes after a decades-long debate over the political correctness of the figure, spurred by complaints that he represents a historical time and place that included violence against Native Americans.

While Prospector Pete is not representative of any one particular person with a history of violence, he is a character meant to represent a caricature of the typical Gold Rush prospector, or “49er.” “Prospectors are believed to be responsible for the killing of indigenous peoples of California,” according to the university.  

The mascot originates from a statue, formally named “The Forty-Niner Man,” erected on campus in 1967.  The university notes that the statue was erected before the Equal Opportunity Program existed at CSULB and “brought about a more diverse student population,” a population the college says “found the prospector offensive.”

Not only is the California Gold Rush an essential part of California history, but the history of the campus itself is rooted in the same time period. The inspiration for the “49er” themed mascot came from the fact that the campus was created in 1949, as well as the university founding President Pete Peterson’s comment that he had “struck the gold of education” upon founding the college.  

“As our diversity grew and more voices were heard, we came to know that the 1849 California gold rush was a time in history when the indigenous peoples of California endured subjugation, violence, and threats of genocide,” President Jane Close Conoley said regarding the decision.

“Today, the spirit of inclusivity is reflected in our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community. Today’s Beach is not connected to that era,” Conoley added.

Some students and faculty are advocating that the next mascot not be modeled after a specific person or group of people so that nobody is offended in the future, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.  

”I understand why they made the decision, but I don’t agree with it because it’s just another instance of the association fallacy being committed to justify doing something completely unnecessary which, intentionally or not, results in a lack of attention to issues that really matter.” Amber Ottosen, vice president of Turning Point USA’s CUSLB chapter, told Campus Reform.

“The choice of mascot doesn’t mean that we agree with the actions and ideas prominent during the gold rush, but simply that the year we were founded and the region we’re located in coincidentally correlate with the historical event,” Ottosen said, adding that “a mascot, symbol, or other inanimate object certainly doesn’t have the power to exclude or disempower anyone, contrary to what President Jane Conoley implied.”

Campus Reform reached out to CSULB for comment but did not receive a response.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @celinedryan