Zebra Mascot Fills Need for Tradition, History, Racial Harmony

by Steven Wolkoff | 11/12/96 6:00am

In last Thursday's D, members of the Conservative Union at Dartmouth called the Indian mascot "a historical convention" whose return was necessary to "preserve the traditions of the school" [Nov. 6]. You know, the same tired old arguments we've been hearing for practically forever. ("Oh no," you're thinking, "not another boring column attacking the lack of sensitivity of the Indian mascot!" Fear not, friend, you'll enjoy reading this column.) While doing some unrelated research for my thesis, I came across a new solution to this old argument. Something which will interest everyone concerned with the search for a new mascot.

There, in Baker Library, buried in bound stacks of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, was the mascot that could unite those demanding the "traditional" or "historical" mascot, those demanding a mascot which wasn't a disembodied color, and those demanding a mascot which would not offend different ethnic groups. What is this miracle mascot? Read on my friend, read on.

In 1796, Elias Hasket Derby, a shipping mogul, donated some exotic items to the Dartmouth College Museum. These items included a stuffed zebra which soon became President Eleazar Wheelock's favorite possession, and found favor in the hearts of everyone at the fledgling school.

Right now, you are probably thinking, "A zebra?? What kind of mascot is that? Are you feeling alright Steve?" Well, I guess I am a little soft-headed right now (I am writing a column for The D), but I think I am in a healthy enough frame of mind to publicly comment upon an issue as serious and profound as the search for a new mascot.

Keep in mind, as the members of CUAD would have you, that the most important aspect of a school mascot is not its appropriateness to our times, but its "historical convention." Well, how's this for historical convention: By the early 1800s, the zebra had attained an almost godlike status among students, frequently appearing on the roof of the chapel, or the belfry of Dartmouth Hall, surveying the campus like the lord of the manor. The zebra was more than a mascot. It was a veritable golden calf; something out of Lord of the Flies.

The proud history of the mighty zebra carried on well into this century. In 1986, J. Gary Bucher '65 donated a herd of zebra to the Alumni Fund in honor of Wheelock's prized possession. If you don't believe me, just check the history. It's all there in the Alumni Magazine. References to the fabled zebra are scattered throughout its pages.

Why was the zebra forgotten and replaced with the Indian? Who knows? Probably too many students didn't play enough Cowboys and Indians in grade school. Could the whole appeal of the Indian mascot lie in the repressed childhood traumas of these students? Maybe the whole Indian mascot thing reflects a subconscious desire to return to the days when they were coddled by Mommy. Could this be their motivation for returning to the Indian mascot? We'll leave that for the Freudians to figure out -- I'm not a psych major.

If the history isn't enough for you, realize that unlike Big Green, the zebra is an animal. Furthermore, for all those looking for a mascot who will not offend, the zebra is a symbol of racial harmony. Black and white together on one animal. But why stop there? Let's make it a rainbow zebra -- a mascot who won't discriminate against race, color, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or status as a Vietnam veteran.

Think of all of the benefits which could come with the zebra. I can see it now. Students making zebra noises at football games. The Review handing out free zebra shirts to freshmen. Herds of zebra frolicking on the Green and lying under desks in the Reserve Corridor. Dartmouth could become a veritable Equus greyvi utopia. (OK, I had to look that one up in the encyclopedia.)

I am not expecting everyone to embrace the zebra at first. There are those who will say the zebra is a silly mascot. But, I expect everyone who has been calling for a return to Dartmouth's traditional mascot to jump on the zebra bandwagon. Wouldn't want to be called hypocrites, would we? This year is the 200th anniversary of the zebra. How's that for history? 200 years after the zebra was introduced to Dartmouth, let's bring it back. Viva la Equus!

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