SPARTANBURG, SC —
The petition to depose Converse College's controversial new class mascot might have closed but the debate surrounding her is slated to continue.
When the petition expired Wednesday, more than 430 Converse College alumni had publicly vowed to withhold financial support from the school unless "Roxie," the unofficial red devil mascot used to represent odd-year classes, is removed.
Alumni contributions constitute about four percent of Converse's operating budget, spokeswoman Beth Lancaster said.
The petition does not require participants to have been donors to Converse in the past.
Roxie is a shapely red devil in a sleek floor-length red dress and red sunglasses, sporting a bow on her hip and a trident in hand. She succeeds Richard, the devil who represented the odd-year classes since 1975, after he went missing in 2011. Richard is thought to have been stolen by the pink panthers, or even-year classes, as part of an interclass prank.
Students who created Roxie said she is "sassy and confident and bold" and "feminine, feisty and fun." The petition against Roxie calls her "oversexualized and regressive" and signatories called her "stereotypical," "offensive" and "embarrassing."
Roxie was initially presented with the slogan, "Behind every great man is a Converse woman." Student creators of Roxie and Converse President Betsy Fleming said the tag line was alluding to the previous mascot Richard, but it heightened the charges of sexism by detractors.
"The most important thing about this is we have a huge number of women willing to stand up for these issues," said petition creator Lauren Maxwell on Wednesday. "The response has really shocked and overwhelmed all of us, I think."
The number of petition signers is not wholly indicative of the amount of anti-Roxie sentiment because of the clause to refrain from attending Converse events or contributing to the school until she is removed, according to Maxwell. Though they oppose Roxie and the image she projects, Maxwell said not everyone is willing to cease giving to the college.
Roxie has also been the topic of discussion on the Converse College Alumni Association Facebook page and sparked a new Facebook page "Revamp Roxie (aka Roxie is not my mascot)."
Addie Watson, senior class president, said Roxie was created with Converse's deep traditions very much in mind. Like Richard, Roxie was created in secret. Only senior class officers, the senior class executive committee and the school's graphic artist were involved in her creation, Watson said. She retains Richard's too-big smile, polka dot bow, sunglasses and horns.
Roxie was all about fun, Watson said. Detractors have called her hypersexualized, but she is only a character, not meant to portray any Converse alumni or student or any ideal.
"We never meant to take away from anyone's experiences," she said.
Both sides said they will present their case at the alumni board meeting on Jan. 26.
"I hope everything will get settled out with this and they will see where we were coming from," Watson said.
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In an open letter to faculty, staff, students and alumni, Fleming said the Coverse administration valued independence and creativity from the student body and would not intervene in the case of Roxie.
Class mascots are an entirely student-initiated creation and to interfere would only serve to "squash initiative and fun" of students associated with a long-time Converse tradition, Lancaster said.
Maxwell called Roxie a "breaking point" for relations that have been strained between the school and alumni for years regarding the direction of the college and transparency.
"We blame neither you nor your peers for the image projected by Roxie; rather, our concern lies with the advisors and administrators who are your leaders and the very ideology being cultivated at Converse College," Maxwell wrote in her letter to Lane.
Lancaster denied there are tensions between alumni groups and the college administration.
"We are seeing a great deal of passion from alumni and we're thrilled people do feel passionate about Converse. We need that. We need them to be engaged," Lancaster said.
In her letter, Fleming encouraged students and alumni to use their fire for advancing women through equal political representation, equal distribution of wealth and an end to violence against women, but to Maxwell that is exactly what she is doing.
"Personally, I believe women won't achieve equal pay or get more seats in the South Carolina Senate, much less the U.S. Senate until little issues like this are dealt with at home," she said.
Maxwell said she, and others, would not be fighting so hard if they didn't think it was important. The education she received at Converse was "not to be questioned" and she credited the school with making her the woman she has become.
"Anyone who has expressed concern about this image is doing it because they really care about Converse College," she said.