I am sure most of you have heard the news that The University of Texas Board of Regents unanimously approved my recommendation last week to name the Vaqueros as the athletic nickname for UTRGV and to maintain the colors of UT Brownsville and UT Pan American – blue, green and orange – to represent our new university.
This is an exciting time – a time to create a new identity and to write the pages of UTRGV history.
Also last week, I announced that Chris King, who has served with distinction for the past several years as athletics director for UT Pan American, will now serve as UTRGV’s athletics director. I have asked Chris, along with student leaders, to head a committee composed of students, faculty and staff from UTB and UTPA. This committee will work with a national expert in athletic branding to determine what our Vaquero will look like, including how the nickname and colors will translate to team uniforms.
Choosing an athletic nickname to recommend to the Board of Regents was something I took very seriously. Over the course of four months, I and leaders with the UT System held public meetings, focus groups and conducted several surveys to seek your input. I also talked to many of you personally and took every single opinion into consideration.
In the end, I chose Vaqueros for a number of reasons. First of all, I wanted something that was authentic to the Rio Grande Valley and that represented the spirit of South Texas. But also, I wanted to preserve a link to the Bronc – a beloved, decades-old icon of UTPA – and pay tribute to that legacy. As many people who have personally reached out to me to voice their support have said, what else would a Vaquero or Vaquera ride?
Over the past few days, I have heard from many who have expressed their appreciation for a nickname that honors the heritage of South Texas.
Jose Antonio Lopez, author of several books about the history of South Texas, had a column published in the Rio Grande Guardian this weekend that painted a vivid picture of the history of the Vaquero.
“‘Vaquero’ is embedded in the Rio Grande Valley,” Mr. Lopez wrote. “Learning anew of their heritage, modern-day students will find out the reasons why their earliest roots in Texas lead to the honorable vaquero.”
Indeed, I like “Vaqueros” as an athletic nickname because it embodies toughness, tenacity, intelligence and perseverance. These are qualities that define the men and women of South Texas and, I hope, will inspire the students of UTRGV. Soon after the decision was made, I heard from athletics directors from universities around the country congratulating us on such a unique and inspiring name.
Another column that was published this weekend written by UTPA graduate student Rolf Niederstrasser, made the point that the Vaquero allows all associated with UTRGV to share in the South Texas identity and celebrate the cowboy culture that was born right here in the Valley.
I plan to reach out to Doug Clark, the art professor at UTPA whose students first came up with the idea of the Vaqueros. They created a sculpture representing their idea and I want to commission Doug and his students to produce a life-size sculpture of the UTRGV Vaquero – one that can be produced and displayed on every campus location.
I understand that change is challenging. And that letting go of something one holds dear is difficult. As a university, we will never forget our roots. We will always remember that UTRGV – and all that it will become – was built on the shoulders of UTB and UTPA. Those institutions will always be the cornerstone of our foundation, the beginning of our story.
But I hope we can remember that this is a new story we are writing together. One that holds promise and opportunity and limitless possibilities. I truly believe it is paramount UTRGV have a fresh identity, one that respects the past and embraces the future.
While athletic nicknames, mascots and colors are important to a university, we cannot lose sight of the critical mission of UTRGV. We have celebrated so many achievements already. In less than a year, we will open a new university! The UTRGV medical school is well on its way to reality and we are creating centers of research excellence, such as the new South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute and STARGATE – a research and technology commercialization partnership with SpaceX. These are the milestones – the transformational advancements – that will define our university. These are the extraordinary marks that should make our headlines. These are the things that will help us become a university of the first class, and I respectfully request that you join me in putting all of our energy into these efforts.
I am so honored to be on this journey with you to establish the first major American university of the 21st Century. I knew when I took the job it would be a journey filled with challenges and triumphs. But it is a journey that will be eminently worth it when we reach our destination.
Guy Bailey is president of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. The above guest column first appeared in a newsletter Bailey sent out to the students, faculty and staff of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville.