The mascot was plumped for by students in 1922, but it’s unclear when the nickname “Rhett” came to be widely used, Boston University President Robert Brown said in a letter to the university community.
“What is clear is that ‘Rhett’ is a reference to one of the lead characters in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, which was made into the Hollywood film with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh,” Brown wrote in the letter, provided to CNN.
“In the Boston University context, the ‘Rhett’ nickname is, of itself, a play on words. Since our school color is scarlet, it was a short leap for students—or perhaps a sports publicist—to link Rhett to Scarlett O’Hara, the other romantic lead in the book and movie.”
“Despite this seemingly cute connection between the movie and our mascot’s name, the fact is that the movie’s portrayal of the American Civil War, postwar reconstruction, and slavery is offensive,” Brown worte. “And it is reasonable for people to question why, at a university founded by abolitionists, we have a mascot nicknamed for a character in a film whose racist depictions are completely at odds with our own tradition. It is time to address this question.”
The committee — that may include university alumni, current students and faculty — has been asked to offer a recommendation for Brown to consider by mid-October.
Boston University is just one of the numerous colleges that has had to reckon with its links to slavery or controversial figures amid the global conversation around racial equality sparked by the death of George Floyd.