With three words – A New Era – LBSU’s beloved-by-alumni and despised-by-activists mascot Prospector Pete, who would have turned 52 next year, was forced into an early retirement by campus President Jane Close Conoley.
Compared to other university mascots, such as the 88-year-old USC Tommy Trojan and the 129-year-old Yale Handsome Dan, Pete was still in his prime. Who knows what he could have accomplished if given the chance?
After all, you do realize Pete isn’t a real person and the gold rush didn’t happen in Long Beach, right? So why then, as a history professor once asked me, do we have a prospector as a mascot? If that professor knew their university history, they would’ve known why.
Founded in 1949, not 1849, Long Beach State went from concept to campus in less than a year. P. Victor Peterson was recruited to be the president of the new college and was a builder. A connector. A prospector, if you will. Although he didn’t prospect gold, he prospected resources in the form of faculty, staff, students and supplies for the new State College.
President Peterson soon came to be known on-campus as “President Pete,” and was hailed for his pioneering spirit. He essentially turned a ghost town of an apartment building into a functioning college campus and staked the claim on 323 acres of land in East Long Beach that would become the third largest campus in the CSU system.
Under President Pete’s 10-year tenure, LBSU grew from 160 students to more than 10,000. It went from a makeshift classroom environment to a sprawling campus with a theatre, radio station, telecommunications center and cafeteria. He was tasked with starting a new college, and struck gold in the motivated and passionate Long Beach community. Years later in 1967, students voted to name the school’s mascot “Prospector Pete” in honor of its original prospector, P. Victor Peterson.
I think if students, faculty and administrators had taken the time to look into the history of Prospector Pete, they may have had a different view of him as a representative of this school. Some people think he represents a real person, an actual prospector but, he’s not. Others think that he represents the dark underbelly of the gold rush. But does he? Were all prospectors participants in the genocide of the American Indians? I fear this may be stereotyping an entire population, which seems counter to the “inclusivity” of our university that we love to humble-brag about.
At the end of the day, Pete. Isn’t. Real. So, he ends up representing what we want him to represent, whether that is ingenuity or genocide. The narrative surrounding Pete is up to us.
In my opinion, Prospector Pete is an important part of our school’s history. We often hear how our university struggles with school pride. We are a commuter campus, so most of our students live off-campus. There is a disjointed nature about this university that makes it more difficult to form a sense of community with school pride. Pride comes from the feeling of accomplishment, of achieving something and I don’t know of another school that went from concept to classes in a little over six months.
It is important for all of us, especially students, to know our true history learn from it, and become better people because of that knowledge, not erase it. As the saying goes: If we do not learn our history, we are doomed to repeat it.
I’m saddened by the decision to retire Pete because there is a better solution than just outright getting rid of him; but no one asked me. That’s why I’m writing this.
As professors we often talk about “teachable moments,” and we missed a big one here. Like San Diego State did with its Aztec mascot, we could have doubled-down on our history and changed the narrative on Prospector Pete, using him as a platform to discuss the ingenuity and atrocities of California’s history.
We could have put a fountain around him and donated any change thrown into the fountain to the Puvunga people. We could have done something positive with it. But as is the trend these days, we chose to “retire” it, to store it away in a remote part of campus and forget it.
So, as Pete sets off into his retirement – whether he chooses to relax on a beach in Cabo or in Northern California where his distant relatives, the 1849ers, are still remembered as a piece of California’s flawed, but real, human history — I hope he can finally rest and maybe even find some gold. Not that he needs it. He has that State of California pension plan after all and probably a sizeable severance package from President Conoley.
Godspeed Pete. I’m heading to The Nugget for a beer, before they rename it.
P.S. Now that Pete is off to retirement, can we address something that really matters to the future of this university, like its name? Let’s send all but one of the numerous names of this school – LBSU, CSULB, Long Beach State, Cal State, Long Beach State University, The Beach – to Retirement Island with Pete. That way he won’t be lonely and we can finally start to build a unified school that we can really be proud of.