Spirited: Cheers to RIT School Spirit

SpiRIT the Tiger

In 1963, a “Tiger Council” made up of RIT students purchased the two-month old Bengal tiger, SpiRIT, to serve as the school’s mascot. While SpiRIT was housed at a local zoo, the tiger was also brought to campus for a variety of events, so that students could interact with their mascot. Students trained as the tiger’s handlers, such as David A. Page (’66), formed particularly close relationships with SpiRIT, which made the animal’s untimely death in 1964 particularly difficult. In 1967, the tiger’s pelt was preserved, so that future generations could also experience the once-living embodiment of Student Pride in RIT.

The use of a living animal as mascot is controversial, as such an endeavor can be viewed as putting the desires of an institution over the animal’s safety and needs. Students and faculty often form emotional bonds with the living mascot, which can be beneficial both for humans and for the animal they cherish. It is often the case, however, that the breathing, feeling animal becomes objectified, viewed more as a possession than as a creature needing care and protection. Cultural understandings of an animal’s needs, intelligence, and consciousness are constantly evolving, of course, and have changed significantly in the five decades since SpiRIT took on the mantle of RIT Mascot. No matter the context, however, it is critical to consider the consequences which an animal will ultimately face, be it in the name of companionship, sustenance, student identity, or school spirit.