The University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Tuesday took down a statue of its Rebels team mascot after complaints by a Native American student association and in the wake of nationwide protests against systemic racism that were sparked by George Floyd’s death.
“Hey Reb!” had been greeting visitors outside UNLV’s Tam Alumni Center since 2007 before it was suddenly hauled off Tuesday.
Despite the statue’s name, the school had previously said it was an homage to western settlers and not a tribute to Confederates.
The university’s Native American Association called for its removal since at least last year, saying it represented a dark time in their people’s history.
The NAACP had been asking for the statue’s removal for years, according to Las Vegas Chapter President Roxann McCoy, who said of Tuesday’s action: “It was overdue.”
“Even when they tried to spin it and say it’s something else, it’s offensive to Native Americans,” McCoy told NBC News on Wednesday.
“You can try to like dance around it and say, ‘It’s not Confederate.’ When you put ‘rebel,’ then you put that image there, um, I’m not looking at just some old white man with a big hat hanging out in Vegas.”
The statue will be given back to the UNLV donors who funded it, a school representative said.
“In recent conversations with the donor we mutually agreed it was best to remove the statue,” UNLV President Marta Meana said in a statement late Tuesday night.
“Over the past few months, I have had discussions with multiple individuals and stakeholder groups from campus and the community on how best the university can move forward given recent events throughout our nation.”
The university is also considering changing its Rebels mascot.
“That includes the future of our mascot,” Meana said. “The frequency of those conversations has increased in recent weeks, and I will have more to share with campus once the listening tour is complete.”
UNLV, which held its first classes in 1957, long after the founding of the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1874, has long said that it adopted the Rebels nickname to set itself off from the state’s flagship school.
For a time, UNLV also used a mascot called “Beauregard,” a cartoon wolf in a Confederate battle uniform.
The university has admitted that use of a “Confederate-themed mascot was nonetheless an unfortunate” move.
Since the 1980s, the school has gone with variations of a white-mustachioed, floppy-hat-wearing “Hey Reb!” that was supposed to move the school away from Confederate imagery and instead pay homage to western settlers.
State Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said she believes that Hey Reb! wasn’t meant to be a Confederate symbol, but still supports the decision to take the statue down.
“Here’s the thing, there are a number of people who for, whatever reason, were not really aware of what ‘Rebel’ means or the fact that there’s systematic racism,” the lawmaker and member of the Nevada Black Legislative Caucus told NBC News on Wednesday. “Up until the murder of George Floyd, there were a lot of things that looked OK or seemed benign.”