Student Well-Being

Indiana School Board Votes to Drop High School’s ‘Redskins’ Mascot

By Bryan Toporek — July 29, 2015 3 min read
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Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, sports teams at Goshen High School in Goshen, Ind., will no longer be known as the “Redskins.”

The Goshen Community School Board voted 5-2 on Monday in favor of dropping the name, according to the high school’s athletic director, Larry Kissinger. Roughly 50 speakers addressed the board about the mascot, which had been in place for nearly 90 years, during the two-hour meeting, according to The Elkhart Truth.

The debate initially sprang up after two parents asked the board to retire the mascot during its meeting on June 8, according to the paper. One of the parents cited the definition of the word from three dictionaries, all of which dubbed the term “offensive” or “insulting to Native Americans.” The other, meanwhile, told the board, “Even if there are just a few students directly harmed every year, through injuring their self-confidence or an increase in bullying, I think it is important that we talk about this and consider it,” per the paper.

On Monday, one speaker of Native American descent came out strongly in opposition to the mascot.

“Please don’t tell us how to feel or argue we are being too sensitive,” Rochelle Hershberger told the board, according to the Truth. “Don’t use the R-word to my face. I am not your mascot, my family is not your mascot, and my children are not your mascot. I have a name. I am worthy of being seen as a person.”

The board ultimately sided with Hershberger, giving the school until Jan. 1 to decide upon a new mascot.

Reaction Mixed

Corey Shields, a 2005 Goshen High graduate, came out strongly in opposition of the change prior to the vote, according to the Goshen News.

“From a flag in South Carolina to a mascot and nickname, history is being messed with by so few people, changing our constitutional freedoms and the history that was worked so hard for,” Shields said. “This is America, people, where men and women have and still are fighting for our freedoms.”

The national Change the Mascot campaign, meanwhile, showered the school board in praise for its decision to drop the mascot.

“We express our deepest appreciation and congratulations to the Goshen Community School Board for its courageous actions in helping to eliminate the R-word racial slur from our country’s—and particularly our children’s—vernacular,” said National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata and Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter, leaders of the campaign, in a statement. “More and more educators are coming to the conclusion that in today’s society, there is no justification for supporting the continued use of a dictionary-defined slur.”

School board member Bob Duell said the change could cost anywhere between $7,000 and $16,000 based on estimates from Kissinger, according to the Goshen News. Prior to the vote, Kissinger posted a statement on the school’s website about the mascot.

“The official logo of the Goshen Redskins is that of an Indian Chief...a leader...someone who sets a good example...These are the life skills that athletic participation teaches student-athletes as they grow from childhood to adolescence to adulthood,” Kissinger wrote. “A leader is also someone who listens to ideas and does not condemn or criticize; someone who has to make difficult decisions that they determine to be for the good of the entire group. Our attitudes towards sportsmanship, our behavior, and our pride in Goshen HS are not dependent on our mascot name, but on the positive life skills that sportsmanship instills in student-athletes.”

Goshen High School is just the latest in a growing number of schools to rid themselves of the “Redskins” mascot. Last December, the Oklahoma City School Board voted unanimously to drop the mascot from Capitol Hill High School effective immediately—the school later announced it would become the “Red Wolves"—while an upstate New York school district voted to immediately retire its same-named mascot earlier this year after two high school lacrosse teams cancelled games against the district’s high school because of its use of the term. California, meanwhile, is moving toward a statewide ban on the mascot, with the state assembly having approved such legislation in May, and the state Senate education committee following suit in mid-June.

With more and more schools electing to drop the “Redskins” mascot in recent years, those who continue to retain it are likely to undergo increasing pressure to make a similar switch.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.