PEMBROKE — Members of a committee tasked with finding a new moniker for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s mascot say they have not yet decided how — or when — to choose a name from the hundreds of suggestions submitted through the school’s website.
The school’s mascot, a red-tailed hawk, is currently known as “Tommy ” — a name that American Indian faculty and staff say is offensive when “hawk ” is inevitably used as a surname. The mascot’s new name was set to be announced when a new costume was unveiled during the university’s homecoming week, which ended on Saturday.
“We’re not sure how we’re going to do it, narrow it down to a few names and have students vote on it or have the chancellor’s cabinet make the decision,” said Sandy Briscar, executive director of University Communications and Marketing.
Among the submissions were several suggestions to keep the name “Tommy,” spawned by the creation of a Facebook group named “Save Tommy Hawk” that included posts from alumni protesting the school’s actions to change what they felt was part of the school’s history.
“We’re not allowing the name Tommy,” Briscar said. “We’ve gotten some feedback in the past that it was offensive to the (American Indian) community so we have to err on the side of caution.”
Briscar said that a problem with the school’s email system prevented students from receiving an email that contained an additional reason why it was time to retire the name “Tommy.”
“We’re going back now and taking a little bit more time with it and explaining why we’re renaming the mascot and that we are re-naming a new costume,” Briscar said. “It’s a totally different look from the old mascot. So we’re trying to come up with a new name for the new costume.”
“Tommy” hasn’t taken the field for two years because of a leaky ceiling that damaged the previous costume, according to Briscar. It makes the third costume change the bird has had since adopted as a mascot — the first red-tailed hawk didn’t have a name.
“A lot of students don’t understand why we want to make the change, so we want to educate them on the process,” said Lawrence Locklear, the school’s web information coordinator and publisher, and also a member of the committee.
Locklear said on Oct. 20 that the bird’s name was “very close in sound to the word tomahawk” and that “to the native community that’s a very offensive term.”
“When you consider the history of the school and the close relationship to the native community, an offensive term like that is not something we want to promote,” he said.