The banana slug, a bright yellow slug that lives in the moist Santa Cruz forest, is the official reigning mascot for UC Santa Cruz. This slimy, soft-bodied creature has no known predators, yet it is the recent target for unjustified university mascot ridicule.

In “the Spin,” an opinion blog of The Daily Pennsylvanian, the paper openly commented on the racial controversy surrounding the University of Illinois’s mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

Illinois is one of several schools that received criticism for its now-rejected racist mascot. While several universities such as Illinois defend their rights to keep their mascot, certain organizations like the Alliance Against Racial Mascots (ALLARM) seek to eliminate these rights by removing all American Indian mascots, logos, team names and nicknames at universities.

However, in their efforts to discuss Illinois’ fight for their mascot, the Pennsylvanian made a disagreeable mockery of UCSC’s friendly herbivore with their taunting title, “At least we’re not the Banana Slugs.” Rather than deplete another school’s symbol of teamwork, we should acknowledge the assortment of unique university mascots.

Universities like Pennsylvania tend to unfavorably depict the Santa Cruz banana slug as a joke of a mascot that lacks any real “masculine” qualities. Ask any UC Santa Cruz student and they will beg to differ.

It was the student body, after all, who voted to keep the slug as the mascot because it is one of a kind and symbolizes the peaceful nature of UC Santa Cruz. The slug may not be viewed as a vicious being, but it sure stands out among a crowd of common mascots.

Mascot rivalry is particularly evident within the university athletic community. Several sport teams rely on their unrealistic assumption that UCSC’s sport teams are not a real threat because of the stereotypical depiction of the banana slug as a feeble mascot, which they associate with the teams. With the men’s tennis team’s sixth 2007 NCAA National Team Championship, and men’s soccer All-Independent Awards under their belt, it’s no wonder that schools view the banana slug as a lack of threat.

Wally the Green Monster represents the Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the pirate parrots, and Lou Seal cheers for the Giants. Needless to say, a mascot symbolizes a team or university’s talent, collaboration and spirit. The banana slug does just that. The slimy slug continues to embody both the athletic and academic aspect of UCSC, not to mention it is the nation’s top mascot.

Although the banana slugs live among the ever-growing student population, these native species have come a long way within the UC community – including a popular showdown with the former late ’80s mascot, the sea lion.

We may not be the ferocious grizzly bear or the robust rams, but the banana slug nevertheless represents our quirky and unique student community. Besides, which other mascots can add a star appearance on Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic “Pulp Fiction” to their list of talents and abilities?

Whether we are a Berkeley Bear or an Irvine Anteater, at least UC Santa Cruz is proud to be the Banana Slugs and continues to celebrate mascot diversity.