John Jay High School in Cross River is putting the community debate over its “Indians” mascot to bed and will opt to replace it.
Though there was no formal vote, following the suggestion of Superintendent Andrew Selesnick, the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education reached a consensus to replace the mascot, noting that some in the community may find it offensive.
The Board reached an agreement that the mascot is dated and potentially not politically correct. However, some in the community rallied around the longtime mascot, and were reluctant to look into the idea of a new one.
“For some in our community, this change will be a relief and perhaps cause to celebrate. For others, it will be painful,” the superintendent said. “As I have in the past, I ask all to be understanding and respectful of differing points of view. And I’ll make a request that’s not much in keeping with our times. Let’s temper our reactions, out of respect for those whose feelings and opinions are at odds with our own.”
Two years ago, John Jay students voted to keep the Indians nickname. Board members noted that the mascot's original intent was not to be offensive, but rather to honor native history.
The board has been debating a mascot change for decades but has never made a change. No timeline has been set forth by school officials for when a final decision may be made on a new mascot. The next discussion on the subject is expected to continue on Thursday, Nov. 21.
Selesnick noted that “during the 1989-1990 school year, the John Jay Campus Congress - students and faculty - resolved to change the mascot and presented their decision first to their school principal and then to the Superintendent of Schools.
“The issue was fraught with complexity then, as it is today. Ultimately, in 1990, the Superintendent vetoed the students’ decision, and said that the Indians mascot would remain if certain conditions could be met. Among those conditions, he indicated that ‘symbolic references such as tomahawks, lances, ‘war chants’, caricatures and costuming will be discontinued.’”
According to reports, the cost of replacing uniforms and changing the mascot could cost tens of thousands of dollars, including the repainting of the gym floor and replacing items in the gym.
“In 2019, maintaining the mascot is at odds with our educational mission,” Selesnick said. “If we are to teach our students the importance of truly listening when someone or some group tells us that our behavior or our words are harmful or unwelcome, then we as a district should serve as a model.”
The superintendent continued, saying, “I said to our Board that if they believe there are enough reasons to consider the John Jay mascot no longer appropriate, then this is one of those rare instances when nothing may be gained - and, in fact, more may be lost - by additional discussion.
“I have no reason to believe that supporters of our mascot are ill-intentioned, nor that they are likely to have a change of heart. Taking time to seek additional input, only to reach the same outcome, will likely frustrate and possibly anger those who take time to participate.”
Nationwide, school districts, organizations, and even professional sports teams have felt pressure to alter mascots or team names that represent Native Americans, leading to a national debate.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, “the intolerance and harm promoted by these ‘Indian’ sports mascots, logos, or symbols, have very real consequences for Native people.
“Specifically, rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.”
Since 1963, no professional teams have established new mascots that use racial stereotypes in their names and imagery. In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) established an extensive policy to remove “Indian” mascots.
As a result, two-thirds, or more than 2,000 “Indian” references in sports have been eliminated in the past four decades, though nearly 1,000 still remain.
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