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UNLV professor speaks on 'Hey Reb' statue removal

Posted at 5:38 PM, Jun 17, 2020

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It’s a day some consider decades in the making. UNLV’s “Hey Reb” statue is gone.

An empty slab is all that remains of the after the statue was removed by UNLV Tuesday. Professor Jovan Johnson an organizer of the petition to remove it feels it’s a good start.

“This symbolic change should be a metaphor for large structural change,” he said.

Johnson says the development is thanks to decades of work from social activists calling for the statue’s removal, along with the recent debate on race relations brought on by current protests. He says the Rebel mascot is rooted in Confederate mythology. Johnson believes even the argument that “Hey Reb” represents a pioneering trailblazer is offensive for Native American students.

“Then I counter that with westward expansion and Manifest Destiny,” he said.

For UNLV graduate Juan Carlos Martin, he assumed the mascot was just another part of the school. However, Martin says he’s open to the school considering a new one.

“It’s a discussion that needs to be had, so we need to hear all sides of the argument and UNLV does have the capacity to change it.”

UNLV President Marta Meana says the statue was removed after consulting the donor and says the school will have discussions on the future of Rebel mascot. Johnson says he’s hopeful.

“The beautiful thing about this administration is that they are seemingly listening, and they are open to these very difficult and tough conversations,” he said.

There is still support for the mascot on social media. Johnson has this to say.

“I would just say research and after all the reading, after all the work that’s done out there, then that’s on you,” he said.

Johnson says the statue removal is part of a wider discussion on race where across the nation companies are now reconsidering their brands. Uncle Ben's and Aunt Jemima are going away with activists arguing they are based on racist stereotypes.

RELATED: Aunt Jemima to get new name and logo, company says current brand based on racial stereotype

“They have been forcing it and pushing it and pushing it for so long. I do think at some level the country is reckoning with it,” he said.

Johnson says these developments are important first steps, but there still needs to be systemic changes in society. Case in point: Hey Reb.

“Not just the mascot, but the conditions that made that mascot possible that still exist in the institution today,” he said.

Johnson believes the university’s move is positive, but only a first step.

“I don’t want to dismiss that, but there is so much work to do,” he said.