In an 1875 referendum Harvard undergraduates selected the school’s color, and since that time crimson has become the most visible symbol of Harvard. It is not only the shade of Harvard apparel, but also the title of the daily newspaper. Most interestingly, Crimson—usurping the place of our official mascot, the “pilgrim-like” John Harvard—now serves as the name of our athletic teams and, by extension, the nickname of the entire student body.
It should come as no surprise that there has been little enthusiasm for a mascot that adds nothing to the school’s aura. Clergyman John Harvard is already aptly honored by the name of this institution; to dub our athletic squads (and our students in general) the Harvard John Harvards would be obtuse. But the impotence of the John Harvard mascot need not deprive us of the energy and enthusiasm that a good mascot can bring to the school. I suggest that we, the students of Harvard College, follow the example of the boys of 1875 and hold a plebiscite to choose a mascot to replace John Harvard.
At a school like ours, where individual ambition and competition for grades and extracurricular achievement are dominant forces, a mascot who symbolizes the unity of the College will be a tremendous asset. A powerful mascot will be a tangible object of affection for all students, as it will embody the grandeur of Harvard and call attention to the solidarity of the student body. I cannot claim that a mascot will stir the campus to a sudden devotion to school sports, but I can envision a mascot with a vigorous and animated personality rallying fans and contributing to students’ common attachment to the school and its teams.
Some will argue that we have come this far without the assistance of an acclaimed mascot and that we can continue to subsist happily in this way. In their view, our lack of tradition is a tradition in itself. But such an inert approach to university life would render our school incapable of progress and sentence future generations of Harvard students to stale experiences as members of the College. If we want to improve the quality of life at this institution for the sake of those who will follow, it is our duty to promote camaraderie among the students. Remember that the students of 1875 were bucking almost 250 years of “tradition” when they chose to establish a school color.
Now crimson is certainly a majestic color, but no hue can by itself effect the desired unity of spirit in our diverse population. The rise of mascots at other colleges around the nation (such as the longhorn of Texas or even the bulldog of Yale) indicates that a lively and visible character representing the school can notably buoy student spirit. This generation of Harvard students should be honored to have the opportunity to add such a valuable piece of tradition to the heritage of our venerable institution.
Perhaps the best way to cement widespread enthusiasm for a new mascot is to make the selection process a democratic one. The Undergraduate Council—in need of a publicly heralded success—should have no trouble establishing a short-term commission to solicit and sort through students’ mascot proposals. After the options have been narrowed to five or six, the question should be put to the student body in a referendum next spring. The people will get their wish, the UC will claim a truly memorable success, and Harvard will be a richer institution.
The surge of school spirit that accompanied Harvard’s defeat of Yale this past weekend was truly delightful, and a beloved mascot will help transform such pro-Harvard emotion from a once-a-year phenomenon to an unflagging affection. Furthermore, the mascot will help create a positive school spirit that is separate from the anti-Yale sentiment. I hope that at next year’s Game our cries of “Yale sucks” will be at least matched by our chants of “Go [Mascot]s!”
Nikhil G. Mathews ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Mather House.