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Commentary: Does the world need more cowboys, like University of Wyoming's new slogan says?

Katie Pinke

WISHEK, N.D. — The University of Wyoming's new slogan, "The world needs more cowboys," is drawing criticism for being sexist and racist.

Here's my first reaction: Yes, the world needs more cowboys. If you don't agree, your idea of a cowboy is different than mine. It's acceptable to think differently, and we can agree to disagree. I'm worn out by being politically correct, but I understand I'm a white, middle-class, rooted in rural America female who has a different worldview than most. Therefore, I might be offended — or not — by things differently than you.

I was raised by cowboys. Cowboys are not solely about cows, horses, boots, belt buckles, hats or a certain cut of jeans. Cowboys are not a certain skin color, race or even gender. Cowboys are not solely a profession. To me, cowboys are gritty, independent, tenacious and bold. They care more for others than themselves, are faithful to their causes and people and purposefully choose their way of life.

My dad is a cowboy — and a small-business owner who wore a suit and tie for 20 years before becoming a full-time farmer. My dad doesn't own any cows and while he was raised on horses, he no longer rides.

My mom is a cowboy, or cowgirl; either term is fine by me. My mom spent 20 years of her life away from the farm and ranch she was raised on but returned with my dad to farm full time. She always displays characteristics of a cowboy, probably even more so than my dad. She is quietly committed to causes and people, she's always willing to pitch in and help where she's needed and she can stand alone or walk alongside my dad on issues of all types.

My parents and their cowboy approach to life, family and business is a legacy that lives on in my siblings and me. They influence who I am today and how I parent, operate a business and my viewpoints. Maybe we're a little rough around the edges and less refined for city folk, but we're tough, and I think the world needs more cowboys of all ages, races, genders and locations.

Cowboys are not only college mascots or a part of a slogan, which the University of Wyoming reportedly paid a Colorado public relations firm $500,000 to develop, all part of a $1.4 million rebranding campaign. As a former advertising agency executive, I shake my head a bit, because I think there are stronger options for a slogan. It's an uphill battle to explain their intentions for the slogan, but as a prairie woman raised by cowboys, I understand the original intent.

Is it worth the effort, time and money to fuss over a university slogan and nickname? There are real issues to fix in higher education. Slogans and nicknames should be at the bottom of most lists.

Does the world need more cowboys? Yes. If the University of Wyoming wants to spend $1 million on sharing why, they can. But if it offends more than it attracts, it fails. If they succeed, not only will Wyoming be a stronger university and state, we might be producing a grittier generation of independent leaders, which the world could benefit from.