Boston University will reconsider the nickname of its mascot known as “Rhett” because of its association with the controversial post-Civil War novel and film “Gone With the Wind,” the school’s president said Wednesday in a letter to the campus community.
The university selected the Boston terrier as its mascot in 1922 by a student vote, and sometime later nicknamed the figure “Rhett” after Rhett Butler, the romantic foil to Scarlett O’Hara in the 1937 novel and 1939 film “Gone With the Wind,” president Robert A. Brown said.
The university has no apparent connection to the novel or film, but since the school’s traditional school color is scarlet, “Rhett” may have been chosen as a playful pun, Brown wrote.
“ . . . It was a short leap for students — or perhaps a sports publicist — to link Rhett to Scarlett O’Hara,” Brown wrote.
Margaret Mitchell’s novel won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the film was honored with 10 Academy Awards, including a Best Supporting Actress statue for Hattie McDaniel, the first Black performer recognized with an acting Oscar.
But the works’ depictions of cheerful enslaved people and spoiled but likable white plantation owners have increasingly been criticized as ahistorical and racist.
Last month, the new streaming service HBO Max temporarily pulled “Gone With the Wind” from its film library after writer-director John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) said the film “glorifies the antebellum South” and when “not ignoring the horrors of slavery pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.”
HBO Max made “Gone With the Wind” available again in late June, presented alongside two new videos that provide historical context.
At Boston University, Brown said, community members have expressed concerns that the name “Rhett” is “associated with the Confederacy, slavery, and sexual assault.”
He added that “the movie’s portrayal of the American Civil War, postwar reconstruction, and slavery is offensive.
“And it is reasonable for people to question why, at a university founded by abolitionists, we have a mascot nicknamed for a character in a film whose racist depictions are completely at odds with our own tradition.”
Last month, BU announced it would launch a Center for Antiracist Research led by Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote the 2019 book “How To Be an Antiracist.”
The dean of BU’s College of Fine Arts, Harvey Young, and the university’s vice president for alumni relations, Steve Hall, will lead a committee of undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, faculty, and athletic staff to consider retiring the nickname, Brown said.
The panel is scheduled to make a recommendation to Brown by mid-October, he said.
“It is important to note that our committee is not a renaming committee,” Young said in an e-mail. “We’re not soliciting new nicknames for our beloved Boston Terrier mascot. We are focused on the nickname Rhett and the question of whether it is compatible with BU’s commitments to diversity, equity and antiracism.”
The move to re-examine BU’s mascot caught some students and alumna by surprise, with some saying they weren’t aware of the Terrier’s name.
“This is my grad school alma mater and oddly I had no idea the BU terrier even had a name,” travel writer Tiffany Dowd said in a tweet.
Others said they knew “Rhett’s” name, but were unaware of its connection to “Gone With the Wind” until Brown sent his letter. The issue seems trivial compared to larger issues of racial inequality on campus, they said.
“To be honest, I’m not particularly passionate about this issue because I feel there are larger issues that could be worked on first,” said Nyah Jordan, 19, a journalism major, who is also vice president of internal affairs for Boston University student government.
Jordan said she spoke only for herself, and not the student government. “Students want more focus on mental health resources, and more Black professors and Black therapists in student health services.”
Wilfred Chirinos, chief of staff for the student government, said he also spoke only for himself.
“We shouldn’t be glorifying symbols that are part of the misinformation campaign of the American Civil War,” said Chirinos, 19, who emigrated from Venezuela with his parents as a child.
The political science major said he feels the move is a hollow gesture and that BU needs to “address more systemic issues that are affecting Black, indigenous, people of color.”