By Allyn Rosenberger
The Susquehanna Township School District’s use of an Indian mascot must permanently be discontinued. The mascot is wholly offensive to Native people and nations; its continued use blatantly disregards the humanity of Native Americans and wrongfully compresses their diversity into a harmful stereotype.
A review of decades of social science research documented that Indian sports mascots harmfully “perpetuate negative associations of and attitudes towards Native Americans.”
The Indian mascot is a remnant of an era in which racism and bigotry were tolerated; the continued use of the stereotype contributes to a deliberate disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.
Among the district’s core values are:
- The environment is safe and supportive.
- Our diversity is our strength.
The use of an Indian mascot directly contradicts both of these values. The acceptance of the “tomahawk” gesture at sporting events, wearing of war paint and Native American headdresses to show school spirit, and continued use of the name Susquehanna Indians creates neither a safe nor diverse community.
These practices do not celebrate the Susquehannock Tribe which inspired the mascot, but rather demean and degrade its important legacy.
Nationwide, the country is reckoning with its history of pernicious racism; we have never been faced with a greater opportunity to effect change in our own community by changing the image of STSD to one that properly reflects the diversity the District purports to value.
The school district is failing its students, and in particular its students of color, by continuing to use the Indian as its mascot.
I recognize that many in this community see the Susquehanna Indian as a source of history and school pride. However, I believe the true source of Susquehanna pride, and what maintains the bonds of our “Hanna Family,” is the educators and students who strive for excellence every day.
According to a 2001 statement by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights,
“Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.…[Schools that continue to use Indian imagery] block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans….The elimination of stereotypes will make room for education about real Indian people, current Native American issues, and the rich variety of American Indian cultures in our country.”
In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for “the immediate retirement of American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams, and organizations.”
More than 200 American colleges, schools and school districts have all stopped using racially offensive Native American mascot names.
A handful of Pennsylvania schools are on this list:
- Most recently, the Elmer L. Meyers Junior/Senior High School Mohawks from Wilkes-Barre were absorbed into a single athletic team for all three high schools in the city, now known as the “Wolfpack“.
- In 2015, Susquehanna University replaced its Crusader nickname with the River Hawks.
- The Indiana University of Pennsylvania changed its nickname from the Indians to the Crimson Hawks in 2007.
- Shippensburg University eliminated its Native American logo in 1993, in favor of the Ship image.
Despite these positive changes, Pennsylvania still has 66 racist public school mascots, including the Susquehanna Indian.
The Susquehanna Township School District must end the use of its racially offensive mascot and create a safe, diverse, and supportive community for all of its students.
Allyn Rosenberger is a 2013 graduate of Susquehanna Township High School. She recently graduated from Stanford Law School and will be starting work as a healthcare attorney at a large law firm this fall. Allyn also holds a Master of Public Health Degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter @AllynR717.
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