ARHS Mascot Study Group to make recommendations to Regional School Committee – Thursday

This summer, the school district responded to a petition calling for the renaming of Algonquin Regional High School and the elimination of the Tomahawks as the school’s mascot. The district didn’t determine a renaming worth serious pursuit. The administration did agree “a close examination of the tomahawk is worthwhile and necessary”. A study group was formed to take on that work.

This Thursday, the group will report to the Regional School Committee. The committee is expected to vote on the issue in two weeks.

In prior communications, Algonquin Principal Sean Bevan explained to parents:

The [Mascot Study Group’s] charge is to ultimately develop a recommendation for the Regional School Committee about whether the mascot should be changed and, if so, what the timeline and costs of that change may be.

In messages last week, Superintendent Gregory Martineau stated that the group will be presenting its recommendations at the April 15th meeting.

The Regional School Committee won’t make final decision until the community has a chance to weigh in. Martineau’s announcement previewed:

Following Thursday’s presentation, I will provide community members with a digital form to communicate information that they think is important for the RSC to read prior to taking a formal vote to maintain or retire the ARHS mascot. The formal vote will take place at the Wednesday, April 28, 2021, Regional School Committee meeting.  

The group’s recommendations aren’t yet outlined, but its worth noting the group’s most recent slideshow showed almost all surveyed staff were in favor of or supportive of a change. (See graphs below right.)
Staff surveys on ARHS mascot preliminary
Of ARHS staff surveyed in before they formally discussed the issue, 66% were in favor of or leaning towards replacing the mascot and 27% were neutral. Only 9 out of 110 were in favor of or leaning towards keeping it.

Staff surveys on ARHS mascot after discussionsFollowing discussions, a second survey found 97% on the side of change, only 3% neutral, and none opposed. Some, but not all, of that difference could be attributed to a drop off in survey participants. 18 fewer staff members took part in the second survey.

Based on a story by the Algonquin Harbinger (the student newspaper), it appears that student opinions in surveys and focus groups may have been more split.

Also worth noting is the change in spirit wear and marketing for ARHS Athletics that took place over the school year.

Algonquin Athletics A As I highlighted in December, the school store has been selling clothing without the tomahawk symbol. A stylized A was adopted to stand for Algonquin Athletics.

The school does still refer to the mascot for its teams, but using the long-popular shorter moniker, the “T-hawks”. Algonquin Athletics does still show the symbol in its twitter page header, but its profile photo has been replaced by a version of the A.

The Mascot Study group is composed of 16 participants covering a range of constituencies including students, staff, parents, and school committee members.

The group was recruited to study the issue following discussions with organizers of a petition for change. The petition, now with over 5,000 signatures, stated: 

The name was stolen from the Algonquin people, part of the Algonquian language group, who have predominant populations in parts of North America. There is no record of the Algonquin tribe consenting to the Northborough-Southborough School District’s decision to name the high school and mascot after them.

The Algonquin name in conjunction with the Tomahawk mascot – which is an ax-like weapon – perpetuate racist stereotypes, classifying Natives as violent and barbaric. Since Algonquin Regional High School’s conception in 1959, racist attire, chants and behavior have been commonplace – disguised as school pride and excused as an attempt to honor Native people. This racism is unacceptable and must change immediately.

Responding to the petition, one alumnus with Algonquin roots publicly objected to “erasure” and conflating the school name with other issues around the mascot and racist behavior. In the June 17th Regional School Committee meeting, 1974 valedictorian Mary Rice-DeFosse called in to speak to committee members. The Bates professor whose teachings include Africana and Americana Studies, publicly objected to changing the school’s name. She told members that it would be an act of “erasure”, making “something that should be visible, invisible.”

Rice-DeFosse described herself as someone with “white skin privilege” who has Native American heritage through the Narragansett, an Algonquin tribe.

She told members that the Algonquin name isn’t something that she thinks can be trademarked. She explained that Native Americans used names to tell stories about places. To her it tells the story that long before colonists arrived were Northborough and Southborough now sit, Native Americans spoke the Algonquin language. Referring to it as a teachable moment, Rice-DeFosse said she hoped that the committee would “find a path that threads a needle”. She encouraged adding course content that deals with the rich heritage of the area.

The following week, the NSBORO district also voted to create a Coalition for Equity. That effort was based on more widespread criticisms and concerns the administration had heard in the wake of national protests. The Equity Task Force would “undertake a close assessment of all aspects of the District’s policies, practices, systems, curricula, and schools’ culture and analyze the District’s Strategic Plan, Vision 2026: Educate – Inspire – Challenge through the lens of equity, tolerance, and diversity and identify further action steps that need to be taken.”

In the fall, Algonquin told students that a Mascot Study Group was being formed. In December, an email to parents explained the plan and described it as complimenting the Equity work. Three meetings were held this winter, each followed by communications. Martineau is encouraging the public to review those here.

The public can sign up to view the April 15th meeting by webinar here. (The presentation is the only item on the agenda and no Public Comment is listed. The time is listed as 6:00 – 7:15 pm.)

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