Union’s Board of Education voted unanimously Nov. 9 to discontinue use of the Redskins mascot and logo, in response to a recommendation made by a 35-member board-appointed committee that was tasked with studying the issue.
“After two months of study, the committee recommended a change, with 88.9 percent voting in favor of dropping the Redskins mascot,” said Superintendent Kirt Hartzler. “Without question, this name is one that has become increasingly divisive. For many, it has been a symbol of pride, honor and tradition. For others, it has caused pain. We received an overwhelming number of requests from Union insiders calling for change. With a name like Union, we can’t hang on to things that cause division.”
A 35-member committee was appointed by the board on Aug. 10 and included student leaders, teachers, support personnel, administrators, parents, members of the district’s Native American committee, alumni and representatives from each board district. Four members of the committee were non-voting, including two tribal representatives and two board members.
“Our committee spent a significant amount of time in discussion and research relating to Union’s mascot,” said Chris Payne, chairman of the committee and Chief Communications Officer for the district. “This decision is not one that was made easily or lightly. Outside of Union circles, the name is widely considered an offensive term. Inside Union, there has also been a significant shift in thinking among alumni, parents and students, and the call for change grew considerably in volume. We knew it was time to revisit this name.”
Union’s board last considered the mascot issue 17 years ago during the 2002-03 school year. At that time, it made the unanimous decision to retain the mascot name. The main reason cited for keeping it was that it was “outside forces” (people outside the district) seeking the change.
“That is no longer the case,” said Payne. “Over the last year, 70 percent of emails we’ve received asking us to drop the mascot have come from inside the Union family. More than 1,200 people – Union alums, parents, teachers and students – joined a group called Union United for Change and signed an online petition. It’s clear that opinions have changed dramatically since the last time this issue was considered.”
Other reasons cited by the committee for dropping the name:
• By dictionary definition, the mascot name is a derogatory term. The word’s origins refer to the scalping of Native Americans and the payment of bounties;
• Union students are frequently put in awkward situations where they are called upon to defend a mascot they personally find offensive;
• Given the diversity of its student population, Union is a “minority majority” district. This mascot no longer aligns with Union’s Core Value of inclusiveness;
• Lost donations/sponsorships from prospective donors who find the name offensive; and
• Many national organizations have been seeking to eliminate Native American mascots for decades, including more than 100 Native American organizations across the U.S.
Payne said, “We took a serious look at research related to Native American mascots and the effect on students, both Native and non-Native, and none of it is positive.”
Research reviewed by the committee showed harmful effects of Native American mascots on Native American students that included:
• Increased levels of stress, depression, anxiety and anger, as well as lower self-esteem, community worth and academic aspirations;
• Trauma associated with the name and seeing it celebrated at school, leading to feelings of marginalization, powerlessness and being mocked;
• Harming native students unfamiliar with their cultural identity by giving them stereotypical images to honor instead of helping them find their true ethnic identity; and
• Creating a climate of division at a place where young people should feel they are in a safe and welcoming environment.
“We have been having conversations internally for quite some time about the possibility of making a change,” said Superintendent Hartzler. “I am pleased we have made that decision. I encourage our students, staff, alumni and supporters to get behind it, as it embodies the values Union has always held dear.”
Hartzler said the district will likely take a “pause” before considering another mascot. “I suspect we will just be comfortable being Union for a while. Later, we may consider potential mascots.” He said the district will need time to fully implement the change, as there are uniforms and related imagery associated with the mascot that need to be evaluated. Hartzler expects this would happen by Aug. 1, 2021.
Union Public Schools first used the Redskins mascot during the 1924-25 school year. At the time, it was the same team name used by Oklahoma A&M (today’s Oklahoma State University). Interviews with alumni revealed that students selected the name to honor the football team’s star players Clarence Drew and Clarence Haikey, both Creek Native Americans.