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Choice For New HS Nickname On Hold Due To 'Concerns' Over One Of Choices

The vote for a new mascot at John Jay High School is on hold.
The vote for a new mascot at John Jay High School is on hold. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katonah-Lewsboro School District

After months of discussions of a new mascot at a high school in Northern Westchester, officials have pressed pause on a scheduled vote due to concerns of one of the two choices.

Poll
What Do You Prefer?
Final Results Voting Closed

What Do You Prefer?

  • John Jay Wolfpack
    12%
  • John Jay Ravens
    40%
  • John Jay Indians
    48%

This week, voting was to take place as John Jay High School in Cross River transitions away from its former “Indian” mascot, choosing instead between the John Jay Wolfpack and John Jay Ravens.

Unexpectedly, however, the Katonah-Lewisboro school board announced that the decision was being delayed due to concerns “regarding potentially harmful connotations associated with one.”

The district did not specify which of the two mascots would be potentially controversial.

The Board of Education had intended to announce the new mascot as of Thursday, June 25 after voting took place earlier this week.

"We have requested that our Mascot Selection Committee take some additional time to consider these concerns and provide an updated recommendation for how best to move forward,” the Board of Education said in a statement. “We are sorry to disappoint those who were hoping for an outcome today, and we thank you for your patience.”

Two years ago, John Jay students voted to keep the Indians nickname in a separate decision. Board members noted that the mascot's original intent was not to be offensive, but rather to honor native history. 

However, last year, Board members began questioning whether or not to replace the mascot, with the community deciding that it was finally time after years of debate.

“For some in our community, this change will be a relief and perhaps cause to celebrate. For others, it will be painful,” Schools Superintendent Andrew Selesnick 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.”

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 then 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.’”

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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