GUILFORD — The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to immediately discontinue Guilford High School’s ‘Indians’ emblem.
While the board broached the topic last fall, a push for a mascot change gained momentum as over a hundred students, former students and parents sent statements to the district over the last few weeks.
Most of those statements asked that the mascot be changed because it was harmful to Native Americans.
After Superintendent of Schools Paul Freeman recommended the mascot be dropped immediately, all nine board members voted in favor of the decision, according to footage of the meeting, which was broadcast live on YouTube.
Freeman suggested that the district incorporate community input when choosing the new mascot and put the final decision to student vote.
Board chairwoman Katie Balestracci was “strongly in favor of changing the Guilford High School mascot,” she said at the meeting.
“There is a consistent message … from Native tribes and organizations, that use of Native mascots and monikers by non-Native schools and organizations is offensive, demeaning and harmful,” she said.
Last fall, when the Board brought up the topic, representatives from the Native American community spoke to the harm that mascots and monikers which evoke stereotypical Native American imagery cause.
James Rawlings, former president of the Connecticut Native American Inter-Tribal Urban Council, said not only is the imagery commonly seen in schools degrading, but it passes myths about what Native Americans are like on to young people.
“They have stolen our history without reading our history,” Rawlings said.
“[The mascots are] problematic because they dehumanize native people,” said Norm Clement, an indigenous activist from New Haven.
“If you really want to honor Native people, then honor their requests to stop using their symbols and mascots at your schools,” Clement said.
When giving his recommendation to change the mascot Monday, Freeman said he had heard from mascot supporters who felt that the ‘Indians’ emblem was a “compliment,” and “honorary” to Native Americans, according to the video.
“The mascot and the moniker may have been selected with good intention, but it is unavoidable that the people that we are attempting to honor do not feel so honored,” Freeman said.
Formerly the ‘Rams,’ Guilford High School adopted the ‘Indians’ mascot around 70 years ago, Freeman said.
While he did not believe the decision was meant to cause harm, Freeman pointed to statements from Connecticut tribal nations and the National Congress of American Indians that said the ‘Indians’ emblem was hurtful.
That harm was more important than the intent, Freeman said.
“It has become unavoidably obvious as we think about this moniker moving forward that the reality, and the offense that is delivered or perceived through such a moniker, is substantially more important than the intention that exists behind that moniker,” Freeman said.
Toward the end of his recommendation, the superintendent gave an apology.
“It is my responsibility that this decision did not happen sooner, and for that I apologize,” Freeman said, thanking friends and constituents for persistently bringing the problem to his attention.
At the meeting, the superintendent and board members also spoke of changing school curricula to better educate students about racism.
“We must educate our students to be citizens that act in a manner that values all people,” Balestracci said. “I believe that this requires both that we model this behavior as an educational system but also that we commit to providing instruction on race, ethnicity and institutional racism.”