'The world needs more cowboys': Would you go to a university with this slogan?
More diverse cowboys, please. Source: Shutterstock

Some wouldn’t.

The University of Wyoming, located in one of the US Mountain States, is receiving backlash for its latest marketing campaign centred around the slogan: “The world needs more cowboys”.

Critics – including faculty and Native American groups – describe it as unwelcoming to those who do not fit this image, ie. those who are not white and male.

President of the faculty senate called it a “sexist slogan”.

“If you’re not a white person and especially if you’re an Indian, it would make you feel out of place – it wouldn’t make you feel too good about yourself,” Darrell Hutchinson, cultural specialist with the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming said.

The school has defended the slogan, saying it is part of a broader campaign that includes different races and gender.

University spokesman Chad Baldwin said: “In a vacuum, the term ‘cowboy’ appears gender and perhaps race specific but in the context of the branding campaign it is connected to images and words that show our cowboys are diverse, of every sex and background.”

At the heart of this quarrel is the debate over inclusivity in American campuses and beyond.

Over the last two years, US higher education institutions have been grappling with declining enrollment. Nearly half of universities surveyed (45 percent) reported a drop in new international students last fall in the annual “Open Doors” survey of more than 2,000 colleges and universities. The average decline rate was seven percent.

The main reason for this downward trend was cited to be the unfriendly immigration policies in the US, specifically the visa application process, or visa denials and delays  which have now hit 68 percent; an increase of 35 percent from the previous year. This was followed by 57 percent citing the socio-political environment in the US – again, up 41 percent from last year.

Portraying a university as one for cowboys – an image closely associated with white masculinity – seems to contradict a recruitment strategy predominantly targeting those who do not fit this look, ie. non-white and non-American.

For international students, this slogan might seem more than a little insensitive, with the US seeing a rise in white supremacy and white nationalist groups who continue to show hostility against Jews, Muslims and other racial minorities.

Growing immigration policies that make it harder for international students and graduates to enter the US to study aren’t helping, either.

But it would be fooolish to write off Wyoming as your prospective study abroad destination based on this incident alone. More useful indicators to help students decide whether to apply to Wyoming should include the school’s performance in ensuring diversity, in terms of both race and gender.

Its website states that the school is host to over 14,000 students from 50 states and 90 countries, while US News reports an almost equal gender distribution in its enrollment, with 49 percent male students and 51 percent female students. Admission information is also provided in seven other languages, from Vietnamese to Bahasa Indonesia.

Perhaps this campaign was just another sorry case of poor marketing decisions. After all, the country has seen a host of them lately, from Kendall Jenner’s tone-deaf ‘Black Lives Matter’ ad for Pepsi to Dove’s Facebook ad showing a black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman in a light shirt.

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