Ideas are bulletproofPosted on November 5th, 2007 after 11958 miles by Dean Croshere.
In the spirit of rebellion and Guy Fawkes day, I will print an article I wrote for the Index, Pacific's newspaper. I also printed the two responses it generated. If the politics of a school and it's mascot bore you, this is the post to skip.
The Recent History of Our Mascot
Boxer is my passion. For the past two years I have extensively studied and researched the history of our illustrious mascot. He has had many twists and turns, and many ups and downs. Students have fought for him and traveled with him. They have stolen him and hidden him. They have buried him and drowned him. They have hung him from helicopters and frozen him in ice. They have overturned cars and stared down loaded firearms. They have broken themselves for him and broken off pieces of him just to be able to claim, “I touched Boxer.”
No other mascot on this planet has such a history. In the words of Phil Creighton, “He certainly is unique.”
I have traveled great distances and spoken with many alumni. I have seen the look in their eyes as they regale me with stories of Boxer flashes and Boxer tosses. I have heard a now-deceased man in his 90s tell a story from his youth. In this well remembered story, he fell two full floors from the fire escape of the now-demolished Herrick hall, landing on his back with Boxer on his chest. He then ran, bleeding, to his car while the ladies that lived in the hall chased after him. You can see his name printed on the Heart of the Oak donor plaque in the new library. Look for “Milton Johnston” under the $1,000,000 or more section.
When I say that I have a passion for Boxer, I know that this passion is nothing. I have not broken myself and I have not broken Boxer. I have not hung Boxer from a helicopter and I certainly have not fallen two stories with a 50-pound (he is almost exactly 50 pounds by the way) pointy brass dog. These brave alumni truly have passion for Boxer.
Our era is different. We have no opportunity to have this same passion. We cannot break ourselves for Boxer. The school will not let us. Indeed, they cannot let us. How could they respond to the media, investors, or law-suit happy parents, should any of these groups ask how they let students break bones in a traditional mascot “toss?”
No, we cannot blame the school for our inability to fight savagely over our idol. We cannot blame them for taking hold of Boxer and creating the series of events that they hoped would create the same passion within the students that the old tosses and flashes did.
We also cannot blame them for failing.
Indeed, they did fail. Boxer fervor had died to such a degree that Boxer was walked through the UC shortly after noon to a reception of little other than disinterested glances and a couple of questions. Disinterested glances and an otherwise lack of interest are not passion: they are apathy.
The school had the right idea when they organized the competitions. They created a group of students that would oversee the group with the blessings of the administration.
There were some mistakes that were made in the Boxer Spirit events that lead to the demise of the passion. One mistake was the timing. They were held during Greek pledging and at the same time as the seasons of several sports teams, effectively eliminating these historical contenders from the competition.
Worse than the timing was the nature of the competitions. They were tightly regulated, authorized by the administration, and beset by rules.
This is the primary point. This is why people stopped caring. The school took control of Boxer. They created rules.
Boxer, by his very nature, belongs to the students. Since the first time he was removed from his pedestal in the school chapel in 1906, the students have controlled his fate. Until recently, there have never been hard and fast rules. Instead, there have been guidelines governed by tradition and limited only by the imagination of those lucky passionate souls that possessed him.
Some brothers of the Gamma Sigma Fraternity, an organization of which I am proud to call myself a brother, were frustrated with recent events and student apathy. They responded to pressure from alumni and managed to obtain Boxer contrary to the wishes of the possessor and the school. I guess you could say we stole him, but that is to miss the point.
We slowly began to admit that we did, indeed, have possession of Boxer. First we brought him to the Gamma reunion dinner. Then we flashed him to the entire Pacific alumni crowd at the reunion weekend. Finally, we flashed him to the freshmen at sign shake and ring.
There are two different types of events with Boxer. The first is the flash and the second is the toss. A Boxer flash is necessarily unannounced. The purpose is for the group that has him to say, “we have him and you don’t.” After the flash, the group then runs off, escaping with Boxer. I recorded Bernie Cooper telling a story of when his Phi Beta Tau Fraternity flashed Boxer at the Mac Hall Christmas Dance in the 1940’s. It ruined the dance because everyone would chase after Boxer and “all the women were standing there saying, ‘well it used to be a good dance, where are all the guys?’” Flashes of the past have included helicopters, hot air balloons, and community pools. If the people flashing Boxer were caught, the flash would be a failure and an impromptu toss would begin.
A toss is announced. Historically, the tosses would happen after a year or so, following a few good flashes. The group would plan the event and place posters around the school so everyone interested could show up. Boxer would be released to the crowd at the time and place specified on the posters. He would usually be introduced in a creative manner such as the time he was in a 3’ x 3’ block of ice, or when he was chained high up in a tree on campus. Once the crowd got a hold of him, multi-hour fights began. Students would often take breaks to go to class while others stepped in to take their place.
This freshman flash occurred just a few days before I left on my trip. It was only while I had Boxer stored in my room that it occurred to me that I should bring him around the country. I cleared it with the rest of the Fraternity and off I went, Boxer stowed safely in my trunk.
I really enjoy taking pictures of Boxer. He adds interest to a picture. We have all seen pictures of each of the national monuments and of all the points in between. Those pictures are taken by better photographers with better equipment. Having Boxer gives me both a common thread and strength to my pictures.
He also adds a challenge. Boxer is heavy. He is not easy to haul from point to point in order to take the pictures I want to take. He is also very short. Since he is slightly over a foot tall, I end up spending a lot of time lying in the dirt to try to get pictures of the terrain towering above him. Finally, Boxer looks strange. Everywhere I go, people ask the same questions about Boxer.
First people just stare awkwardly. Usually there is a period of about a minute where no one will say anything. After that time, people’s curiosity overrides their fear of asking a stranger a question. The same question, worded differently, begins the conversation.
“[what’s the story with/what is/why are you carrying] your [dragon/dog/lizard/lion/…/thing/it]”
“It’s my school’s mascot.” The follow up is obvious enough.
“Pacific University in Oregon” I’ve had two people recognize the school; one grew up in West Linn. Usually people nod blankly and move on. Sometimes they ask where in Oregon, that’s easy enough to explain.
“What is it?”
“A Chinese Dragon Dog.” This is usually good enough. If people started off the conversation with a guess of what it was, I’ll just tell them they were right. I have no idea what he actually is.
“So why are you carrying it?”
“I’m going on a road trip around the country, taking pictures with him.” If they’re still interested at this point, I’ll give them a card with my website. This usually involves an awkward shifting of Boxer’s weight as I reach for my wallet with the cards.
“Yeah, that’s a good description.”
“So is this a greek rush thing/do you have to carry him/did you lose a bet?” This one is tough to answer. I’ve got about a sentence, maybe two, to explain the entire history of Boxer and why it is an honor to have him. I think I’ve found the answer that both gains their interest and explains a lot.
“No, we stole him, actually.” Yep, interest gained.
“Does the University know you have him?”
“They didn’t at first, but they do now.” Sometimes they want an explanation of this. I’ll briefly help them out.
“Can I hold him?”
What are they going do, run off with him? I’ve run with Boxer, they won’t get far. Plus, they don’t actually want him.
“Ooof. He’s heavy.”
“Yeah, that he is.”
Sometimes the conversation is over here, other times we will go over various minutia, his history, or perhaps something entirely different.
While Boxer provides much for me on this trip (especially a great way to get alumni to let me crash at their places), I can only hope that this trip will inspire conversation and debate on campus. The students themselves have the power to decide the future of the mascot, and it is best that such a conversation is held as widely as possible.
I will set forth my current records with the expectation that they will be shattered by some students more enterprising than I. During my time with Boxer, I have hiked three and a half miles as the sole person carrying Boxer while climbing 900 feet in elevation. I have also driven nearly 8000 miles with Boxer in my car. I expect to double this latter number by the time I make it home to return Boxer to the students.
How, exactly, Boxer is going to be returned to the student body is still up in the air. I have my opinions, but as Boxer is still in the possession of the entire fraternity, the group as a whole will make that decision. The decision is a difficult one.
I would encourage students to write the Index and have their voice heard. What is the best way to maintain or increase interest in Boxer while simultaneously protecting the school’s interests? Is it better to have Boxer be a highly coveted private creature, a thing which only the lucky few can say they have touched or been photographed with, as it has been in the distant past, or is better to have Boxer be a commonly seen public creature, an object which every student sees, touches, and is even photographed with frequently, as it has in the more recent past? Is Boxer better left in the hands of the student body, regulated by tradition, or to be protected by the administration, governed by the well planned, rules of this establishment?
There must be a solution that will balance the school’s need for civility with the student desire for passion. These are the years in which the future of Boxer will be decided. You are the students that will make the decisions.
Jennie, My host in DC, snapped this picture of me snapping a picture of Boxer. It is nice to get a third person view of what I'm doing here.
There was one direct reply to this essay printed in the paper.
Boxer, by his very nature, belongs to the students. On this point Dean Croshere and I agree. If, however, Boxer belongs to students, why is he with an alumnus halfway across the country? I have heard the phrase "Boxer Awareness" tossed about several times in justification of Dean's actions, but as his road trip progresses, I have to ask myself: with whom is Boxer Awareness being raised? Just who is Dean trying to reach through this cross country road trip?
Certainly, Dean must not be trying to reach this year's freshman class. If he is, I fear he is working counter-productively toward his goals. As Dean mentioned in his article, he and a couple others from the Gamma Sigma fraternity flashed Boxer at "Sign, Shake, and Ring" this year, in a departure from the traditional presentation of Boxer at this event. When I was a freshman, Boxer was on a table next to Dr. Phil and each new student was given the opportunity to pause, examine the mascot as thoroughly as necessary, and even have a picture taken. Most consider meeting Boxer the best part of the event.
A Boxer flash was absolutely a memorable interruption of the ceremony, and I'm sure it was a powerful experience for the 70 or so incoming students who were lined up when Dean and his friends came through. But what was the experience like for the other three-hundred entering students? The ones who went that whole day, and then all of orientation, and now all of September, without ever seeing our great mascot up close? About a week after school started, I heard about an incident in which a couple freshmen attempted to steal the plaster replica of Boxer from the PUCC office, thinking it was the real thing. This is a bittersweet anecdote. Sweet, because it demonstrates the eagerness of this newest class to be included in our proud traditions. Bitter, because they clearly had no idea what it was they were trying to steal.
Dean ended his article asking that Pacific students write the Index and sound off about what should be done to protect the Boxer tradition. The first step in answering that question is to demand Boxer's immediate return to campus. "Boxer Awareness" in Detroit, New Hampshire, or at Wrigley Field doesn't matter in the slightest if there are students here, at home, who have no idea what they're missing.
Vice President, Pi Kappa Rho fraternity
Tyler makes many good points here, but he avoids the one issue that really matters. If I were to mail Boxer back to campus, was is to be done with him? I would happily do it if there were some kind of (good) plan.
There was also a reference to it in another letter, this one written by Micael Russo, that was generally lambasting the Index.
"How could I live with myself if not for yet another picture of the Boxer Dragon in front of Mount Rushmore?"
I'm not sure what he means by this. There has only ever been one picture of Boxer in front of Mount Rushmore (well, ok, I took 10, but I only published 1).