LANCASTER, N.Y. (AP) — A western New York school district will do away with its Redskins mascot and nickname after other districts in the region turned up the pressure by boycotting games because of it.
The Lancaster Central School Board voted to retire the longtime symbol Monday during a special session called after three districts with sizeable numbers of Native American students canceled lacrosse matches.
The term Redskins is considered by many to be a racial slur against Native Americans.
While supporters of the nickname said it was a source of pride and never meant to offend, a resolution by Superintendent Michael Vallely said it has become a “symbol of ethnic stereotyping” and that keeping it could subject students to retaliation.
The unanimous vote was shouted down by Redskins supporters, many of whom wore past and present school uniforms and jackets with the Redskins logo.
“All of these years we’ve never used it in a negative way,” Lancaster High School senior Emily Koeppel said after the meeting. “It was never meant to be hurtful.”
Numerous high schools and universities throughout the country have dropped the term in recent years and several Native American groups have begun a “Change the Mascot” campaign to press the National Football League to remove it from the Washington, D.C., franchise.
“There is no pride in having schools boycott playing our sports teams,” board member Kimberly Nowak said. “There is no pride in winning by forfeit.”
The lacrosse boycotts by the Akron, Lake Shore and Niagara Wheatfield districts in western New York followed a March 3 public forum in Lancaster that drew more than 100 people from both sides of the issue.
Several students said they would continue to wear their Redskins apparel and call themselves Redskins despite the vote by the board to begin a “student-centered” process to develop a new mascot.
“This is our school. We are Redskins,” student Torie Dombrowski said.
The school has been leaving the Redskins name off new uniform orders for the last three to four years, and a new football field scoreboard also is without the mascot, but district leaders had said they would take their time before deciding whether to do away with it altogether.
The boycotts and other pressure from the community hastened the decision, board members said.
A spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation of central New York, which is involved in the NFL campaign, said districts that have replaced their mascots, including neighboring Cooperstown, have not seen a decline in school spirit.
“Not only did the school make a powerful statement to the Native American community that they no longer wanted to use a term that is a dictionary-defined slur against native people,” spokesman Joel Barkin said. “But it made a statement to the kids in that school to be self-aware and have empathy and think about how the actions that you are engaging in affect other people outside of yourself.”
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2001 called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools, saying the portrayals “encourage biases and prejudices that have a negative effect on contemporary Indian people.”
The American Psychological Association took a similar stance in 2005, citing harmful effects “on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.”
Said board member Michael Sage, “The students in this generation and those to follow need a new tradition.”