Anyone who has driven by the University of Houston-Downtown campus has likely noticed the absence of cougar iconography in the area. That’s not an oversight and there is a curious backstory that many students aren’t even aware of.
UHD students aren’t cougars. They are gators, and the reason why dates back the mid-’70s.
According to the school’s archives, after the former South Texas Junior College was bought by the University of Houston in the spring of 1974 there was a call to differentiate the new school from the one off Cullen by grumbling UH faculty.
The issue at hand was that the junior college’s faculty were moved into faculty positions and the professors at UH proper weren’t fully behind this.
The solution was that the new University of Houston Downtown College would become its own administrative entity and would change its mascot and colors, with the school soon being represented by a jaunty alligator that walked upright. Before UH came along the STJC’s mascot was a sea hawk.
The proximity to Buffalo Bayou likely had a hand in the name change.
According to Dr. Michael Dressman, an English professor at the school, it was faculty members who decided on the gator as the mascot. He said that there was even a dance called the “Gator Snap” to go along with it at the time.
The mascot was nicknamed the Ed-U-Gator but these days he’s also known as Allen when he makes his rounds at student functions. There is even a gator statue on campus which to the untrained eye at night much just make someone nearly jump into the bayou from fright.
After the 1974 transition the school colors were changed from red and white to green and white. In 1979 the school transformed from a junior college and into a four-year school, becoming a separate institution from UH. In 1983 the name was changed to simply the University of Houston-Downtown, with college being dropped from the moniker.
The colors were changed to a patriotic blue and red in the mid-’90s and the UHD logo as most know it today was designed by Houston native and UH alum Joe Wynne.
Check out the the new additions. pic.twitter.com/8FzEbk3YBX
— UHDowntown (@uhdowntown) August 3, 2018
UHD continues to be a separate entity from UH although it is a part of the UH system which also includes the Clear Lake and Victoria campuses. They are represented by hawks and jaguars, respectively.
Some former UHD students weren’t aware why they were gators and not cougars. While actual cougars (thankfully) aren’t common near the campus, gators actually are.
“I spent many days along White Oak and Buffalo Bayous and on more than one occasion, walking along the bayou in various places, I heard large splashes in the water near me,” Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Kelly Norrid, a UHD alum, said this week. “I have seen evidence of them, areas of compacted vegetation where they ‘slide’ back into the water.”
Another Houstonian, Olivia Johnson, graduated from UHD in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Rhetorical Public Communication. She spent time at both the downtown campus and the main UH campus during his collegiate career.
Does she consider herself a true Houston Cougar or some sort of half-gator, half-cougar mutation?
“I’d consider myself half and half. I spent an equal amount of time each school and I had very different specific experiences that defined me as a student and as a person,” Johnson said.
Who would win in a true fight? A gator or cougar?
“Chuck Norris, ” Johnson joked. “But probably a gator.”