(Sheridan, Wyo.) This week, Wyoming made national news when some staff and faculty at the University of Wyoming protested the school’s new marketing strategy.
The primary tagline for the campaign is “The World Needs More Cowboys.” Some employees of the college, including those involved in campus advocacy groups such as Faculty Senate, the Committee on Women and People of Color, and the Native American Advisory Committee, objected to the use of “cowboy.”
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Emily Monago, Chief Diversity Officer for the university, organized a meeting of the administration and opponents of the new marketing campaign. Chad Baldwin, Vice President of Marketing and Communications agreed to conduct more market research on the campaign.
“We didn’t plan to launch the campaign until early fall, but the overwhelmingly positive response of Wyoming people and UW supporters to ‘The World Needs More Cowboys,’ based on media reports, has caused us to move forward now with some pieces of the campaign,” Baldwin said in a press release on Thursday. “Harnessing the positive energy resulting from the media coverage will help us roll out the campaign to a wider audience. Plus, we think it’s important for people to see the full context for the primary tagline as soon as possible.”
Promotional materials state that the campaign does not reinforce regressive stereotypes of Cowboys from the pop-cultural past, but aims to re-write them.
“Drawing upon Wyoming’s proud heritage, this campaign redefines what it means to be a Cowboy in this day and age, distilling it down to the inner spirit of curiosity and boldness that all who call themselves Cowboys and Cowgirls can identify with — no matter their race or gender, or whether they’re students, employees, alumni or other supporters,” UW President Laurie Nichols says. “The Cowboy spirit is what the University of Wyoming helps instill in students, giving them the skills and support they need to make the breakthroughs that benefit our state and the world.”
According to an email correspondence from Baldwin, The Board of Trustees approved moving forward with the marketing campaign immediately on Thursday, including release of their primary campaign video.
When asked whether the term “cowboy” had caused any controversy in the past, Baldwin said he didn’t recall there being concerns about use of the term “cowboy” on campus until recently.
Monago had a different story about the word’s history. ‘To my understanding, this is not a new concern raised in the UW community,” she wrote in an email. “There have been efforts in the past to promote inclusion by using the word ‘Pokes’ instead of ‘Cowboys.’ Pokes was derived from the word, ‘Cowpoke’ and regarded as a more gender inclusive term. There are several UW events, programs, etc. that used ‘Pokes’ and examples can be found on the UW website.”
In the press release, the university stated that they had hired a firm to conduct a communication evaluation among high school students who were likely to go to college. The nationally representative sample included a statistically significant number of African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.
Before the respondents viewed the campaign video, 25 percent said they definitely or probably would consider UW, and 25 percent indicated they definitely or probably will apply. Among ethnic respondents, the numbers were 36 and 33 percent, respectively.
After viewing the video, 48 percent of the national sample said they definitely or probably would consider UW, and 41 percent said they definitely or probably will apply. For ethnic respondents, the numbers were 53 percent and 48 percent, respectively.
Broken down by gender, 77 percent of male respondents and 85 percent of female respondents indicated viewing the video increased their likelihood of applying to UW.
Some 68 percent of national respondents and 56 percent of ethnic respondents said viewing the video changed their perception of what it means to be a cowboy.
Additionally, before the respondents viewed the campaign video, 36 percent of the overall sample (41 percent of ethnic students) agreed that UW is “a university rich in diversity.” After viewing the video, those numbers rose to 58 percent for both sets of students.
On July 17th there will be a training for faculty and staff members on the new branding. Those opposing the new slogan plan to attend and voice their concerns.
Watch the primary campaign video below: