Wednesday, July 15, 2015

As Confederate Flag Debate Rages, Schools Weigh Mascot, Name Changes

Walt Handlesman


(Author's Note: As some readers may be aware, I am presently serving as Chair of the Eastern Kentucky University Faculty Senate. Please be reminded, that none of my blog pieces represent official positions of the EKU Faculty Senate or the University. Never. Not once. Like other commenters on KSN&C, I only speak for myself.) 

South Carolina isn't the only place grappling with Confederate imagery in recent weeks. A number of schools with Confederate-themed mascots or names are likewise weighing changes in the wake of a church shooting that left nine dead in Charleston, S.C.
Former Ole Miss Mascot Colonel Reb
Last month, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a school board in Fort Smith, Ark., unanimously voted in favor of a measure to remove the Rebel mascot and "Dixie" fight song from Southside High School. If the board approves the measure again in a July 27 meeting, the fight song would be abolished beginning this coming school year, while the mascot change would go into effect for the 2016-17 school year.
Following the vote, which took place six days after the fatal shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left the acclaimed pastor and eight parishioners dead, the district posted a statement on its Facebook page explaining the school board's decision:
Demographically, the school district is 11.4 percent black and more than 50 percent non-white, according to data from the 2013-14 school year. At Southside High School itself, 4.5 percent of the student body is black and more than one-third is non-white, according to data from the same school year.
Southside isn't the only school forced to grapple with such a decision in recent weeks. According to an analysis from the website Vocativ (h/t the Washington Post), nearly 200 public and charter K-12 schools across the nation "are named either explicitly for prominent Confederates or for places named after prominent Confederates."

One such school in San Diego, Robert E. Lee Elementary School, spurred Calif. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to send a letter to the district asking for it to change the name, reported. In the letter, Gonzalez wrote the community "deserves a school named after someone we can all admire. Robert E. Lee is not that person. The district responded to with a statement that read in part, "We see this as a wonderful opportunity to have a larger community dialogue with students, staff and families about the school name and look at the history and research surrounding Lee in order to make a collectively informed decision about changing the name or retaining it."

Meanwhile, in Duncan, S.C., a group is calling for James F. Byrnes High School to rid itself of its "Rebels" mascot, according to Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the school board president for the Houston Independent school district, reportedly plans on discussing the possibility of "renaming six campuses named after Confederate loyalists," according to the Houston Chronicle, which schools chief Terry Grier is "strongly considering" recommending. Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro likewise called for community members to band together and support a name change for Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, according to 1200 News Radio WOAI.

For any school that decides to pursue such a change, a Little Rock, Ark.-based graphic designer has offered to re-design "the mascot or logo of any school or college that uses Confederate imagery" at no cost, according to the Arkansas Times.
 This from My San Antonio:

Texas high school defends Confederate mascot as coach gets slap for racial remarks

Students and alumni have rallied for a North Texas high school to keep its Rebels mascot days after the Fort Worth Star Telegram obtained records showing school officials reprimanded a softball coach for repeatedly making insensitive remarks about African-Americans.
Brenda Jacobson

The flareup over the mascot came after the Fort Worth Star-Telegram obtained an April letter from Richland High School principal Carla Rix in North Richland Hills concluding that softball coach Brenda Jacobson "may have made inappropriate comments to students based on race or skin."

Several players had accused Jacobson of making racial remarks to players since 2014, according to the Star-Telegram: the coach was accused of calling a black player's hair "nappy and nasty," accusing a black player of refusing to a drill "because there is water on the ground and black people don't like water" and saying to one black player that "the sun is more attracted to you because you are black" among other comments.

Jacobson denied the allegations and was been placed on administrative leave for less than one school day during the investigation, the Star-Telegram reported.

Kenzie Wilson, a former Richland High School student, told WFAA that Jacobson directed several comments at her.

"I felt like it was enough and I shouldn't be treated like that anymore," Wilson told the news station.
Rev. Kyev Tatum of the Fort Worth Southern Christian Leadership Conference had asked officials with Richland High School and Birdville Independent School District to change names of the school's mascots from the Rebels, Dixie Belles and Johnny Rebel, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The request comes amid a renewed national debate about the public display of Confederate iconography and imagery following a racially-motivated shooting at a historic black church in Charleston.

"These symbols are having a negative impact on children of color from Haltom City to North Richland Hills," Tatum said in a news release. "Whether it's the Rebels mascot to the Dixie Belles dance team to Johnny the Rebel on campus, it is time for the Confederacy to come down."
At least 3,600 people have signed an online petition to keep the mascot names, according to a Facebook group called Save our Richland Rebels.

"Richland High School...has a rich history and we want to keep it that way! We cannot learn from history if we erase it," the group's page reads.

Dozens of protesters rallied Sunday afternoon in support of the names, CBS DFW reported. At least one Confederate battle flag was visible during the rally.

And of course, New Texas textbooks downplay slavery in the Civil War


Bringyoursaddlehome said...

First let me say, I don't have any problem with taking down the Confederate flag from state/federal locations unless it has some sort of historical basis, (i.e. Gettysburg Battle Field). At the same time lets remember that in general offensiveness is not a qualifier for infringing on free speech of individuals and private groups.

With that said, colonel, rebel, REALLY? How about any character that presents a potentially violent or militaristic image like a pirate, cavalier, general, defender or even patriot as that might stir up the sensitivities of pacifist folks or those whose families experienced violence. Military academy competitors just need to be referred to respectively as objects like "boats", "planes" and "land vehicles with out offensive capacity".

Also, no more saints, devils or demons - going to offend both the religious as well as atheist folks. We also need to do away with mascots that can be identified with any sort of culture, region of origin or ethnic.

Animal rights folks are going to want to get rid of any sort of animal as it no doubt imposed inaccurate human qualities via mascot costumes as well as misrepresents the animals as being aggressive and competitive.

It should just be "home" and "visitor". Those are sensitive and kind identifiers (I think, maybe). Perhaps we could get creative and use non destructive environmental monikers like rainbows, tulips, breeze, raindrops, etc. No, Sierra Club and environmental folks probably won't go for that, it presents elements of the ecosystem in an unnatural, commercialized fashion. Let's just go with home and visitor.

Yes, I am quite sure that all of our society's inequities, biases and differences will just melt away if we will simply make these changes which are polluting the minds of our young folks. I just hope someone or some hate group doesn't start calling themselves "home" or "away".

Richard Day said...

I don’t believe “general offensiveness” is what’s at play here.

If the situation was reversed, and I was African American, I can’t imagine rallying around any group where the majority chose to continually remind me of their long-standing heritage of oppression against my race, based on their belief in the inferiority of people like me. That would seem doubly bothersome on a public college campus.

What would it say for a 21st century American public school to value its perceived historical roots - which it claims to now reject - over a more open campus environment that truly embraces all students without respect for anyone’s history?