July 1, 2020
As part of our ongoing conversations about racism and the way it manifests itself in society and on campus, a number of you have pointed out that our mascot’s nickname, “Rhett,” pays tribute to a fictional character associated with the Confederacy, slavery, and sexual assault, and that has prompted important conversations.
We know that the University mascot was chosen in 1922 by student vote, with the majority favoring the Boston Terrier (over the bull moose). It is less easy to pinpoint when the nickname “Rhett” came into common use. What is clear is that “Rhett” is a reference to one of the lead characters in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, which was made into the Hollywood film with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. In the Boston University context, the “Rhett” nickname is, of itself, a play on words. Since our school color is scarlet, it was a short leap for students—or perhaps a sports publicist—to link Rhett to Scarlett O’Hara, the other romantic lead in the book and movie.
Despite this seemingly cute connection between the movie and our mascot’s name, the fact is 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. It is time to address this question.
I have asked Harvey Young, dean of the College of Fine Arts, and Steve Hall, vice president for alumni relations, to cochair a committee to consider the question of whether the “Rhett” nickname should be retired. The committee will be composed of representatives from the alumni community, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, and representatives from Athletics. We are currently working to recruit these committee members.
I have asked our cochairs to develop a workplan, engage the Boston University community, deliberate, and offer a recommendation for my consideration by mid-October. I look forward to reporting back to you.
Please stay safe and well.
With best wishes,
Robert A. Brown