If you’re an IU student or alumnus, a relative or friend who doesn't live in Indiana has almost certainly asked you: “What is a Hoosier?”
I generally respond that a Hoosier is just someone who lives in Indiana because the meaning beyond that is mostly ambiguous. The term came into general use in the Midwest in the 1830s in reference to a certain frontier roughness and independence, according to the Indiana Historical Society. That name alone, however, isn’t enough to lead a school.
IU students and fans need someone to rally behind, a hero to lead us through the thick and thin of battle against our sports rivals. We need someone who truly embodies the Hoosier spirit of strength and independence.
We need the bison to be our mascot.
Over the years, IU tried to sport several mascots, such as an owl, a raccoon, a goat and a bulldog, until the student senate made the unanimous decision in 1965 to make the majestic bison our school’s mascot. But this dream was abandoned after the mascot’s costume designs were too difficult to wear comfortably.
A cowboy named Mr. Hoosier Pride paraded about IU as its mascot for a single year in 1979. Since then, IU has gone without a hero to look up to.
In the Big Ten conference, only the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan similarly lack a mascot. Are the Hoosiers really going to sit idly by while the likes of Purdue and Ohio State unite their fans under a mascot’s rallying field antics? The Hoosiers that I know wouldn’t waste a moment to show how we love our school. As Scott Dolson has just joined the Hoosiers as the new IU athletic director, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce another new and exciting member of our team.
The brazen bison has long been a fixture on Indiana’s state seal. In recent years, however, bison have become a topic of new conversation. A herd of 23 bison were introduced to Indiana in 2016 by the Nature Conservancy as a part of its Kankakee Sands prairie restoration project. The herd nearly doubled in size in its first year alone. If made the proud mascot of IU, the bison could symbolize the revival of our state’s natural landscape.
The introduction of a new mascot could also be a great source of revenue for IU. Apparel, commemorative coffee mugs and adorable bison stuffed animals would be fun new merchandise ideas. After all, one can only own so many candy-stripe shirts.
A new bison mascot would be a comedically fitting way to celebrate the history of IU. Our 2020 football team could go from being the bicentennial team to the bison-tennial team. Is it corny? Perhaps, but it’s catchy nonetheless.
We can also look to the state of Indiana’s own bicentennial celebration in 2016 as an example of how fun a bison-centric celebration can be. The Indiana Bicentennial Commission placed 5-foot-tall fiberglass statues of bison in each of Indiana’s 92 counties in partnership with the Indiana Association of United Ways. The bison-tennial art installations were painted by local artists to depict various aspects of Indiana’s history and character.
The next fun part of having a new mascot would be naming the bison. IU wouldn’t have to give up the title of the Hoosiers, either. I think “Herman the Hoosier” would be a nice way to honor IU’s beloved chancellor Herman B Wells, but “The Hoosier” would do just fine.
In these particularly trying times, Hoosiers need a figure we can unify behind. This fall, let’s cheer on our Hoosiers with a new mascot to celebrate our bison-tennial year.
Everett Kalman (he/him) is a junior studying law and public policy and is the vice president of external affairs for Culture of Care at IU. He plans on practicing immigration law in the future.