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October 24, 2014

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Critics say lyrics in University of Utah fight song are sexist

SALT LAKE CITY — After more than a century of singing "I'm a Utah Man," some say it's time to update the University of Utah's 1904 fight song.

Proposals to adjust such lyrics as "I'm a Utah man" and "our coeds are the fairest" have spiked emotions on campus in recent weeks.

Critics say the lyrics are sexist. Others contend that the current refrain honors tradition and has sentimental value for classes of alumni. Similar debates have popped up at schools across the country.

At the University of Utah, President David Pershing is asking the Office of Student Affairs to put together a committee that will weigh changes to the song, "Utah Man" after student government leaders and a faculty body passed resolutions urging the changes.

The university seeks a new refrain "that respects the variety of views across our university community," Pershing said in a Monday statement.

Hundreds of emails regarding the fight song have flowed into Pershing's inbox in recent weeks, he said.

The faculty's Academic Senate threw its support behind the effort on Monday after the Associated Students did the same in April.

Pershing says any modifications to the 1904 tune must strike a balance between tradition and inclusion. He's asking students, faculty, staff, alumni and others to suggest new lyrics through May 31.

University alumni have floated changes to the song in recent decades, but the efforts stalled after others said they like the current tune.

"Utah man" could become "Utah fan," some have said, but no specific changes have officially been proposed.

"In 2014, people are advocating for equality on all fronts, so hopefully this is a reflection of that change," Associated Students President and social work student Sam Ortiz said in April.

The song dates back to 1904 and once contained the lyric "We drink our stein of lager and we smoke our big cigars." Officials replaced that part with the line referring to coeds.

The university's policy never explicitly excluded women, but female students didn't enroll in significant numbers until after the turn of the 20th century, about 50 years after it opened, O'Mara said.

There's no university policy or precedent for altering the fight song, said university spokeswoman Maria O'Mara. The committee of officials is scheduled to recommend specific changes by the end of June, but the president faces no deadline in making a final decision.

Utah's fight song isn't the first to be refurbished.

Thirty years after it first admitted women, the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004 replaced such references as "sailor men" in its fight song, with "sailors" after garnering criticism that the lyrics excluded women from the school's heritage.

A year earlier, some alumni at New Mexico State University lobbied for the school to rethink boozy references in its fight song that includes the line, "And when we win this game we'll buy a keg of booze and drink it to the Aggies 'til we wobble in our shoes."

Some alumni said they chanted a new version at a football game, but dropped the effort after fans booed the watered-down lyrics.

Others have updated fight songs to reflect changes in athletic conferences. The University of Kansas revised "I'm a Jayhawk," an anthem popular since 1920. References to the Cornhuskers were removed in 2010 after Nebraska announced plans to leave the Big 12 Conference.

But not all universities and colleges are taking steps to alter popular chants. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the 1924 fight song still praises the school "where the girls are the fairest."

At the University of Utah, the issue rises amid other recent diversity-related news. School officials and the Ute Indian Tribe in April struck a deal to maintain the "Runnin' Ute" nickname for school sports teams in exchange for increased recruiting and financial help geared at tribe members.

Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in Salt Lake City and Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska contributed to this report.

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