Gender inclusivity highlighted in mascot program


Photo of Leila and Julie wearing jackets with their mascot group on back.

Courtesy of Leila Oswalt

Photo of Leila and Julie wearing jackets with their mascot group on back.

Makenna Flores, Managing Editor

Leila Oswalt, senior pre-medical biochemistry major, has followed her mother’s footsteps in gender inclusivity for the BGSU mascot program. 

During the Feb. 18 basketball game, Oswalt was unmasked as Freddie Falcon. She is the first female to be unmasked as the male-presenting mascot.

Oswalt originally applied to be Freddie, but since she was told she would be more competitive as Frieda, they were brought onto the team as Frieda. 

Despite all members of the mascot program playing both Freddie and Frieda, depending on availability, Oswalt made it clear that she wanted to be unmasked as Freddie. 

“Through multiple conversations with the other mascots in my year as well as our Spirit Coordinator I kind of voiced why I wanted to be Freddie, not only because I felt more aligned with his mannerisms and his character as a whole, but also because I thought it was important we showcase to the University how inclusive the mascot program really is,” they said. 

A Legacy Revisited 

Although under different circumstances, Oswalt’s reveal being the first female to be unmasked as Freddie is similar to her mother, Julie Johnson, who was the first female to be part of SICSIC. 

Johnson joined SICSIC in 1988 after getting a letter about initiation. She said at that time, people didn’t apply to be part of SICSIC. Johnson wore the gorilla mask during her three years of being a mascot. 


“It was very different being a female SICSIC because no one expected it. I was there with five other guys. They all ended up being like my big brothers, they were so protective of me and to this day they still look out for me,” said Johnson. 

She said since she was the first female and they didn’t want people to know she was a girl, she had to do everything in her power to make it seem like she was a male. This included wearing the men’s overalls, strapping a pillow to her chest, walking differently and even making her voice sound masculine or like a gorilla when she talked in costume.

Johnson said since her reveal in 1991, SICSIC made sure to add at least one female to the team. 

Oswalt said growing up with her mom who encouraged a love for BGSU helped her decision in coming to BGSU and the mascot program. 

“I always knew I was going to go to Bowling Green. When I was looking at colleges, I was trying to find that homey aspect and community that I desired and what really drew me here were the people and how open and welcoming everyone was. As I learned all of this stuff, I was like, “I really do love BG and I wanna give back the best way I know how and share that love with others,’” they said. 

For both Johnson and Oswalt, being in the suit not only has made an impact on the university, but made an impact in their lives, too. 

“I definitely think it’s made me a lot more confident in myself. I’ve always been quiet and introverted, but my mom always told me I could be as wild as I wanted to be within the suit. No one knows it’s me going out there,” said Oswalt. 

Johnson said being part of the SICSIC program made her feel more empowered and important. 

“Being a part of SICSIC, not only did I gain a family, I gained a voice, I gained empowerment and I feel that the spirit there has become better and stronger,” she said. 

Photo of Leila Oswalt during BGSU Bird unmasking (Courtesy of Leila Oswalt)

Oswalt also noted her push to be Freddie also helped her in wanting to push inclusivity in all aspects of their life. 

“It has also inspired me to continue pushing a message of inclusivity within my career as well. I’ll be working in the medical and healthcare field and there is a lot of bias – which we see based on data and statistics. I want to continue pushing education and messages of inclusivity in my field and in my workplace,” she said. 

Oswalt said she is excited for the future of the mascot program as they further work for inclusivity. 

“For the birds, starting this application cycle, they aren’t taking in people to be a specific bird. They are looking to take in the six best people to be either bird. I think it’s a huge step in regards to gender inclusivity. There’s also been some talk about somehow allowing people with different abilities to be in the suit,” she said. 

Johnson gushed over how proud she is of her daughter for going into the bird program with a mission and making a difference. 

“The difference between Leila and I is that I was chosen for a reason. She chose this as a platform. She wanted to do this to make a change and what she’s done is open the floodgate to so many possibilities,” she said.