Campus Deserves a Voice in Our Mascot's Future
Published: Sunday, August 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, August 5, 2013 08:08
After the recent decision that Jack Jr., or “J.J.,” will not continue as mascot, the university must decide the future of its mascot tradition.
I believe that a representative committee deliberating in a transparent process should make those decisions. Such a committee would foster a healthy balance between the unbridled passion for the mascot found among Georgetown stakeholders and the instinct for control animating “Healy Hall,” i.e. the offices of communications, external affairs, university counsel and risk management.
Healy is understandably keen on controlling the university’s public image. For example, Jack must not appear to advocate any commercial product or political position. This emphasis on control has extended to specific requirements about messaging: I was told to avoid any statement about Jack’s retirement — because that might suggest that J.J. was now the mascot — and to refrain from mentioning J.J.’s training, because that might suggest that J.J. needed training. I must be accompanied by a “handler” from the Office of Communications any time I am interviewed about either dog, and any follow-up questions are filtered through that office.
These protocols can be burdensome, especially two university requirements that I have not followed: that I get permission from Healy before speaking to student press about the mascot and that I allow Healy to censor all of my public speech about the mascot, including statements, photos and videos posted on Facebook and Twitter.
I suspect this desire for control is behind both the university’s ongoing consideration of the “rent-a-dog” model, where an off-campus dog would be brought in for occasional events. When I asked about my role in the next stage of the mascot tradition, I was told simply that there is discussion going on about how the caretaker role could “best be managed” at the university.
Unfortunately for Jack and J.J., Healy has been more enthusiastic about control than support. While Healy, no doubt, appreciates the mascot, I have not sensed a great deal of passion for him within its corridors. My one request to any administrator in Healy for $200 of funding was declined because, I was told, his unit was not involved in the mascot. (The university, by the way, does not provide any financial support for Jack and J.J.’s upkeep). Before J.J.’s arrival, a few reporters shared with me their puzzlement over the university’s ambivalence toward the mascot. I invited several Healy administrators to join me any time on a walk with J.J. so that they could meet him and see his interaction with children on campus — a cause for concern in Healy. All of them declined. A university spokesperson’s recent praise for the importance of having “no emotional attachment” in making decisions about the mascot was institutionally revealing, even if unwittingly so.
None of this is intended to criticize Healy administrators for their emphasis on control or for their lackluster enthusiasm for the mascot. They are professionals doing their jobs — jobs whose descriptions don’t include “mascot enthusiast.” My point is simply that because their professional instinct for control is not tempered by an innate enthusiasm for the mascot, they are the wrong people to decide the future of the mascot tradition.
What is needed now is the Bulldog Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from the entire Georgetown community. The BAC, which began meeting earlier this summer, brings together representatives from Hoya Blue, the Georgetown University Student Association, the Jack Crew, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Communications, the Office of Advancement, the Athletics Department, faculty and the alumni community. Healy’s disregard for the BAC in its decision on J.J. suggests that it has no use for the committee itself or for the inclusive collaboration it encourages.
That is unfortunate. Students and alumni — not administrators — led the drive to bring a live mascot to campus in 1999. At the time, they proposed that an inclusive committee, similar to the BAC, govern the affairs of the bulldog mascot. We should return to that original plan, so that the same groups that were responsible for establishing a beloved campus tradition — students and alumni — can now have an active role in deciding its development.
The university is at its best when it is a place of candid and transparent dialogue, perhaps especially when that dialogue exposes disagreements. If the mascot is to be an adequate symbol of Georgetown, decisions about him should reflect its rich, dialogical life.
Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., is chair of the Department of Theology and caretaker for Jack and J.J.