The debate over the mascot of Long Beach State has been grounded in the racial tensions surrounding the contentious legacy of prospectors in California for decades.
“The American Indian Community at LBSU has been protesting the 49er Days [events] and Prospector Pete for the past 50 years,” said Craig Stone, head of the American Indian Studies department. “It first began in 1968, when white students were dressed up as American Indians and “coolies” (slang for Chinese Americans) during the 49er Day celebration… [current] Anthropology Professor, Marcus Young Owl, took down a ‘teepee’ that had been erected on campus in protest to the spectacle.”
Stone added that the history surrounding the Native American genocide and the role that prospectors played, remains largely ignored and misunderstood by historians and the wider Long Beach community. Student demographics at LBSU have transformed from a community that Stone said was predominantly white in the 1950s to a campus with an increasingly diverse student population.
Some groups of alumni, however, believe that the wider historical context of Prospector Pete is being overlooked in the rush to establish a new campus identity.
Inspired by Victor Peterson, the first president of LBSU who was affectionately referred to as “Pete,” Prospector Pete is seen by some as a representation of the tenacity and resourcefulness that grew LBSU from its initial student body of 169 students to one of the largest campuses in California. Peterson was known to compare the value of education to that of “striking gold.”
“I’m honestly very disappointed, not necessarily at the process, but the idea that it was taken out of context,” said Kurt Brouwer, incoming president of the LBSU Alumni Association. “Victor Peterson was a prospector in the sense that when they established the university, they didn’t have a location. Everything that he did was basically prospecting in nature, and that was where the idea for a prospector as a mascot came organically to the student body.”
Trish Farber, LBSU class of ‘67 alumni and wife of Stewart L. Farber, former dean of student affairs, argued that for a campus of its size and diversity, some change is inevitable.
“This really is a natural evolution,” Farber said. “We should expect change in an institution as diverse as [LBSU] … I just hope whatever mascot is chosen will represent the combined pride of the community.”
Although the campus has yet to arrive at any sort of consensus regarding its future symbol, some in the LBSU community remain hopeful that all stakeholders will be heard.
“A mascot is important to our campus and community, but even more so to our student-athletes and coaches who wear the uniforms and athletic gear each and every day,” said Andy Fee, LBSU Athletics Director. “Our student-athletes are proud to represent our university, and are committed to excellence. A new mascot can bring our many constituents together under a unified identity, and I remain optimistic our campus will introduce a mascot that is welcomed and embraced.”