Nearly 20 years after the Colgate University Red Raiders became simply Raiders out of deference to the racial implications of the nickname, Jamestown High School is about to begin in serious discussion that could lead to dropping the Red Raiders nickname of its teams.
Jamestown Public Schools announced it has formed a committee of students, parents, staff and community members to look at the school’s Red Raiders nickname, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Whitaker said Monday in a statement on the district website.
Whitaker’s statement said the district hoped to start a “community conversation” on the issue, in response to an online petition started last month to change the school’s mascot. Jamestown resident Autumn Echo initiated the petition on change.org, titled “Remove racist name & imagery from Jamestown Public Schools athletic teams.” The petition had 853 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
“Given today’s climate and the important issues revolving around equity, it is vital that our community knows that we hear their concerns regarding the JHS logo, imagery and name,” Whitaker said in his statement. “The voicing of these concerns creates an opportunity for JPS to hear, and work to understand, all points of view on the issues raised. It is also an invaluable educational lesson for our children to see our community come together to collaboratively work through an issue of community concern.”
Whitaker said the district’s goal was “to hear all sides of the issue and collaborate on a solution as a community” and noted it would not be an overnight solution. The district has said it wanted a collaborative process so as not to inflame additional polarization on the topic.
“We hope by talking about concerns and viewpoints in a committee format, we will find a way to bridge understanding and create an outcome that will make everyone feel heard in the process,” he wrote.
The controversy comes as the Washington team in the National Football League announced its intention to change its nickname from Redskins to an undetermined designation. The Redskins name dates back to when the team was the Boston Redskins before moving to the nation's capital in 1937.
The Jamestown situation brings to mind the controversy that faced the Lancaster schools teams just five years ago. After an emotional and sometimes bitter dispute in that community, the Lancaster Redskins became the Lancaster Legends.
"Legends" was determined by a vote of Lancaster high school, middle and elementary students in June of 2015. In time a new logo also was chosen.
The Lancaster change didn't come easily and still is resented by some. The controversy was between those who saw racial insensitivity of the nickname and traditionalists who argued it intended no harm, that it represented valor and heroism and was not insulting. Besides it had been in place for many years without damaging anyone.
Jamestown seems in store for the same sort of discussions.
Echo’s petition said: “With a renewed energy and focus on fighting racial injustice and with communities and individuals working hard to promote a culture of anti-racism personally and within their own communities, we would like to petition the Jamestown Public School District to change the name “Jamestown Red Raiders” and remove any Native American imagery from their logo and all sports/school paraphernalia/buildings, etc.”
The petition has the support of the Seneca Nation of Indians and other groups.
The Jamestown district has limited its use of Native American imagery in the last decade and changed its logo for all its athletic teams to a “J" with a feather.
The petition references, “This display of feathers is a common nod to Native American culture, and implies an appropriation of Native American head wear.”
A counterpetition to keep the name and logo started by Melissa Paterniti, a 1993 Jamestown graduate, has 1,214 signatures.
“I’ve said for 30-plus years, ‘Once a Red Raider always a Red Raider,’ " she wrote. “It’s more then a name it’s FAMILY TO US!! Still after graduating 27 years ago I’m still very close with many of my Former Red Raider classmates, teammates and TEACHERS!!! We PRIDE OURSELVES IN THE NAME RED RAIDER!!”
Red Raiders is said to be derivative of Redskins, though, Jamestown is far from the only school in the state to use Red Raiders. St. Francis, Hornell, Lowville and Fulton are among the others. Massena changed its name from Red Raiders to Spartans in 2018. Two high schools in the state, Oriskany and Canisteo-Greenwood, still use the Redskins name.
Some time in the 1970s, Colgate stopped depicting its Red Raider as a warrior. At first, the mascot was a torchbearer. That change was not totally satisfactory to critics. Beginning in the 2001-02 academic year Colgate changed the nickname to simply Raiders.
The nickname battle is not new in athletics. The Dartmouth Indians became the Big Green in 1974. The University of Massachusetts Redmen became the Minutemen in 1972. The Stanford Indians became the Cardinal. The Eastern Michigan University Hurons are now the Eagles, but the Central Michigan Chippewas are still the Chippewas. Marquette's Golden Eagles were once the Warriors. Ironically one of the names proposed for the Washington NFL teams is Warriors.
Besides the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves are facing renewed controversy over their names given the present climate. Buffalo was spared that controversy in 1978 when the National Basketball Association moved the Braves to San Diego.
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