By Anna Saischek
Three years after voting to get rid of Major Reuben Millsaps as the college mascot, Millsaps College remains mascot-less. “Nothing has changed. Millsaps does not currently have a mascot,” said’ Dean for Inclusion and Involvement, Demitrius Brown. In 2015, the Student Body Association voted to remove Major Millsaps from his position as the official mascot, but how did we get here and what is going to happen?
In recent years, along with the discussion to change the Mississippi state flag, the history surrounding the college’s namesake came under scrutiny. According to the Encyclopedia of World Methodism, Reuben Webster Millsaps was born and raised in Mississippi, trained as a lawyer and businessman and later lay the foundation for Millsaps College through philanthropic donations. Millsaps served in the Confederate Army, eventually working himself up to the position of “major”. After taking this into consideration, the student body members along with the college’s administration decided to abandon the Major as its mascot.
Ian Taylor, current SBA president, reiterated in an interview with the P&W that Reuben Millsaps does not reflect what Millsaps stands for anymore. “I think it was the right decision to get rid of Major Millsaps. I think there is just so much history and tension that that person causes, having been a major in the Confederate Army. In general, that is just a really divisive thing to have,” he said.
Three years after this vote, however, students are wondering what has really changed. After admitting that nothing visible to the student perspective has really been altered, Brown clarified that this does not mean that the college has not been making efforts to move in the right direction.
First steps have already been taken, according to the Director of Communications and Marketing, John Sewell, whose team made sure to remove Major Millsaps as the mascot from college related material and merchandise. Additionally, both Dean Brown, Taylor and Sewell spent the past year as members of the “Millsaps Mascot Task Force Committee.” This committee consisted of student, faculty and staff and was dedicated to the gathering of data on what it means to be a major. They sent out surveys to students, alumni, staff and faculty to give them a voice in the process of finding a unifying symbol for Millsaps.
According to Brown, they received a total of 563 responses out of which most consisted of either current students or alumni. While the current generation seemed eager for change, the alumni seemed to think more traditionally. “But we also have to understand in that context that the demographics of our students look very different than the demographics of our alumni. So, for them, many of them existed at a time when a character like Major Millsaps was seen as part of a norm […] that wasn’t challenged in the same way that this current generation of students is challenged,” Brown said. Brown also emphasizes that this view also only includes a section of alumni and should not be generalized.
The consensus of the majority of the gathered data was that Millsaps needs a new mascot, so when asked what the next step for the college is, Brown, Taylor and Sewell all agreed that they will have to bring together their committee again and discuss how the data is going to translate into a mascot. When asked about a timeline, Sewell responded that until a clear direction is found nothing should be rushed. “The last thing we want to do is rush something out there that either makes people feel like they didn’t have a say or something that could be just plain silly. There are other bigger, larger colleges that had problems with their mascot. We don’t want to go from the mascot we had to a black bear to a landshark,” Sewell said.
The college alluded to here is the University of Mississippi, who, according to the Daily Mississippian, retired their original mascot, Colonel Reb, for similar reasons as Millsaps and replaced him with Rebel the Black Bear in 2010. Even though chosen through a poll of students, the mascot has not caught on. This prompted the university to, once again, conduct a survey and finally change it to their current mascot, the Landshark, in 2017.
What Brown concludes from experiences like this is that he would rather Millsaps get it right instead of rushing the decision. “What I would want our students to know is that at the end of this process, they are going to have a unifying symbol that we can all be proud of,” he said.
As of publication, the committee has yet to reconvene, and comments on a concrete timeline have been evaded.