Students will soon be seeing a lot less of Prospector Pete in the 49er Shops Bookstore after President Jane Close Conoley announced that the 51-year-old statue is officially retired, Sept. 20.
According to Kierstin Stickney, director of marketing and communications at 49er Shops, the merchandise for the mascot has never been one of the university’s biggest sellers. Stickney said she has not seen any change in sales for Prospector Pete merchandise after the announcement that he was officially ousted. She noted that a sweatshirt with the mascot was on clearance for its poor sales rather than the retirement.
“Our intention for the future is to continue to carry a limited amount of Pete merchandise, along with brown and gold items, for our customers looking for nostalgic Long Beach gear,” Stickney said in an email.
In Conoley’s email blast, she cited the desire to move away from the California Gold Rush era as a reason for the mascot’s retirement. The statue will be moved to an alumni center, which is still in development.
Susie Jones, a fourth year communication studies major and American Indian Cultures minor, facilitated a discussion about the controversy surrounding Prospector Pete in her Social Movements and Protest class.
“I think that the university is making a good decision when shifting away from Prospector Pete merchandise as he is our retired mascot and he no longer represents who we are as a campus community,” Jones said. “This campus is very progressive and is always finding ways to be more inclusive to the various backgrounds we have on campus.”
The “Forty-Niner Prospector” statue was sculpted in March 1967 by former student Ben Barker, and was later named Prospector Pete after former campus president P. Victor Petersen. It has since been a topic of debate between the alumni and the American Indian community.
Jones credited the impact the American Indian Student Council had on the university’s decision to move away from Pete.
Months before the formal retirement of Prospector pete decision was made, the American Indian Student Council spoke to the Associated Students Inc. Senate in February about how the statue signified a symbol of genocide to the native people. In the succeeding month, ASI passed a resolution calling for Pete’s retirement. Within the year, the university followed suit.
According to a September interview with the Daily 49er, Conoley said the decision to retire Prospector Pete came after a consensus between students, faculty, alumni and staff. In the interview, she stated the university’s plans for moving away from the mascot, which included the sale of merchandise.
“We asked 49er Shops when they run out of their last Prospector Pete shirt not to get that again,” Conoley said.
One Long Beach State alumnus, who wished to remain anonymous, helped create a T-shirt campaign against Prospector Pete’s dismissal. The shirts, sold through Custom Ink, feature a throwback 49ers logo on the front chest of the shirt and the old mascot atop the phrase “We Stand with Prospector Pete” on the back.
The alumnus said the idea behind the shirt was to gather en masse a group of alumni and have them wear the shirt at the homecoming game, which they expect Conoley and much of the campus community to attend.
“I think whether it’s alumni and a lot of the current student body, the fact that [the administration] made a unilateral decision without advising or discussing this openly outside with the community with the alumni community I think at large, says a lot about the current administration,” the alumnus said. “I think a lot of people are frustrated that people are kind of generating and creating their own narrative around the mascot especially one that has as much history as Prospector Pete and not taking any of that that into account.”
The T-shirts are sold at $17.83 with all of the proceeds covering the costs of the shirts and manufacturing company, Bella + Canvas. At the time of publication, the alumnus has received 15 orders for the item, according to the website.
The alumnus said they sympathize with the American Indian community for the Prospector Pete’s perceived representation of genocide, but disagrees with their depiction of the mascot.
“We just wanted let people know, ‘Hey, we’re standing up for our mascot, our university’s history,’” the alumnus said. “Nobody here is trying to create a narrative or define Prospector Pete as being one version or the other. I think he’s something that’s much bigger than that. The argument can be made for nearly any mascot on nearly any campus that they might inflame or hurt a certain group of people if you create that narrative. But I think it’s a little childish that we’re allowing one group of people be the loudest voice in the room.”
Amid the flinging narratives, Jones still holds that retiring Pete was the right decision for the campus community
“This specific [alumnus] is caught up in preserving the past, which is respectable, but is not looking at what the real meaning behind Prospector Pete is for others,” Jones said. “In my opinion, [the alumnus] shouldn’t advocate those shirts if [they] really understood what the university represented which is diversity and making the students feel like they belong to a positive and supportive institution.”