SALT LAKE CITY — The student government of the University of Utah voted this week to make changes to the school’s fight song, “Utah Man,” saying the song is “discriminatory” to some.
The Associated Students of the University of Utah voted unanimously to make the changes to the song after student body president Sam Ortiz drafted a bill to correct student concerns over some of the references made in the song.
“We’re one of the most diverse campuses, especially in the state of Utah, and we pride ourselves on our diversity and our ability to reach out and become a cohesive community,” said Mark Pittman, College of Law representative for the ASUU assembly. “If the fight song is offensive to any groups of people, we want to avoid that. We want to make sure that it’s as inclusive as possible.”
Pittman said many in the student government have been approached by various groups asking for the changes. He said one such group were women who were offended by the term “Utah Man.”
“Many people have worried that this language is offensive to women,” he said. “Others have argued that many women don’t find it offensive. But in my perspective, especially, if some group of women finds it offensive, it’s at least worth considering whether or not we should make changes to it.”
"Many people have worried that this language is offensive to women. Others have argued that many women don't find it offensive. But in my perspective, especially, if some group of women find it offensive, it's at least worth considering whether or not we should make changes to it."
The vote by the ASUU student government does not automatically mean a change to the fight song will take place. The school’s diversity committee will first meet to discuss the issue before moving on to the academic senate and then to the board of trustees for a final vote.
“It’s the first step to allow the process to begin to evaluate and look at the song,” Pittman said.
The Alumni Association will likely have a role in the discussion, based on previous debate over the tradition and longstanding history of the song.
"The Alumni Association was not consulted by ASUU prior to the recent discussion,” said John Fackler, director of business and outreach at the University of Utah Alumni Association. “Around seven years ago, the Alumni Board discussed some proposed changes. At that time they decided not to support any changes. But we recognize that in that time attitudes may have changed."
Although the tradition and history of the song will play a role in the discussion that moves forward, Pittman said it’s the responsibility of the ASUU to care about the future of the university and the inclusiveness of current and future students.
“The alumni is especially valued and are very open to become a part of this conversation and the process if they’re concerned,” Pittman said. “In our view and from our perspective, we represent the students on campus, not the students outside of campus. And we’re really concerned with making the voices and views of campus heard.”
Pittman said the issue for many close to the debate is that of a “generational divide.”
“There are older generations that feel very strongly that the song shouldn’t be changed for the sake of history and tradition,” he said. “But we feel very strongly that this in an enduring tradition that will continue and a legacy that will build on the future. And it’s important for us to evaluate that and to ensure that it’s inclusive of students in the future and not just in the present.”
One of the recommended changes to the song would be to change the phrase, “a Utah man,” to “a Utah fan.” However, the proposal has not been properly evaluated and is just one of the proposed changes, according to Pittman.
The university addressed the subject 7 years ago, but the proposed changes to the song were never made.
The University of Utah recently agreed to a new t-shirt design using the "A Utah Man Am I" phrase, according to Mike Withers of Sierra Supply, which is a licensee of the University of Utah for apparel.
The shirt features Yosemite Sam with the phrase "A Utah Man Am I" above the character and a block U logo on a mountain landscape. The shirts will be available whether or not the university changes the fight song.
"I'd assume a lot of people would want to buy the original," Withers said. "There's a lot of fight in their particular belief in the way it is."
Contributing: Mary Richards