By Patrick Bohn
Ithaca College has been in existence since 1868. But in all those years, the school has never had a mascot. This year, that appeared poised to change, as the school embarked on a months-long mascot search. However, an inability to come to a consensus on the mascot forced the school to abandon the search, with Ithaca President Tom Rochon writing that the search "served as a wedge issue to divide us."
How did a seemingly simple process wind up being a divisive issue? It might have started with a name. Ithaca's sports teams are referred to as the Bombers, but the school wanted to steer clear of a mascot that would be associated with war-like imagery. While the decision may have been sound, it apparently caused confusion among those who wondered if it meant the college would change the school nickname as well.
Although the school made multiple posts to its official "IC Mascot Search Blog" assuring that the school nickname would remain unchanged, the decision to make the mascot something other than a more obvious visual representation of the name Bombers upset many. A Facebook group called "SAVE THE BOMBER" grew to over 2,000 members.
While there might have been some early confusion, the school continued with the hunt, soliciting nominations from students, alumni, faculty, and staff and appointing a mascot selection task force made up of student-athletes, members of the student government, school administrators, and coaches. At the end of the six-week nomination period, the committee had received over 250 suggestions, and they were tasked with coming up with three finalists.
The task force emerged with three somewhat unorthodox finalists: a flying squirrel, a phoenix, and a lake beast. This seemed to fit with the goals of the task force, which stressed, "[Ithaca College] is a unique place that deserves distinctive options. If we presented a dog, a tiger, or a bear, we knew we would have heard complaints about them being too common."
However, not everyone approved the three choices. An editorial in the school newspaper, The Ithacan, was titled, "College Mascot Finalists Bomb" and urged the school's Office of Marketing Communications to consider other finalists.
Further complicating the issue were some controversial comments made by Rochon in response to a former student-athlete who did not see how a mascot would add to his sense of school pride. Rochon's response included the following:
"Alumni athletes do not need a mascot to understand Bomber pride -- you understand it in terms of your own memories of commitment, discipline, team work, and other traits that led to success on the field and that changed the lives of everyone who took part. The mascot we are developing is primarily for our current and prospective students, athletes and non-athletes alike."
The response rankled some alums, and Rochon apologized through the mascot blog, saying: "My wording was clumsy and my email was intended as a personal message rather than as an official or public statement. However, I failed to properly consider that many alumni may view an Ithaca College mascot in a similar fashion to how they see their diploma...So to those alumni who may have felt insulted or marginalized by my comments, I offer a sincere apology."
By this point, the school had distributed feedback surveys to students and alumni. The surveys used scale questions to gauge respondents' feelings regarding each of the three choices, and allowed for individuals to write open-ended opinions as well. The school received nearly 10,000 responses to the survey, although a minor point of contention was that the survey did not include an option for "None of the Above" when it came to making a choice. The task force defended this decision, writing, "It was our charge to cull through all of the submissions and recommend a set of finalists--and we stand behind the three we chose."
After the survey results were analyzed, the school announced it was discontinuing the search. While the results were not made public, Rochon posted to the blog that, "A substantial majority of people in every category of relationship with IC - student, alumni, faculty and staff - would like to have a mascot, and most people in every category were supportive of one of the three finalist options. However, the minority opposed to having a mascot is large enough and impassioned enough that what began as an initiative to personify Bomber pride instead served as a wedge issue to divide us. Consequently, I have decided that we will discontinue the search for a mascot."
According to the school, the Phoenix received the most support of the three choices. However, ultimately Ithaca was unable to make a mascot rise from the ashes.
Patrick Bohn is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management. He is also an Ithaca College alum.