Voices of the Activists: Q&A With MHS Students Pushing For Mascot Change

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Voices of the Activists: Q&A With MHS Students Pushing For Mascot Change

MHS Student Activists Team
Rear: Liam Chenette, Gio Martinez, Elliot McDonald-Hall
Front: Aliza Ebora, Majesty Moore, Katherine Miner

MHS Student Activists Team Rear: Liam Chenette, Gio Martinez, Elliot McDonald-Hall Front: Aliza Ebora, Majesty Moore, Katherine Miner

Photo: Aislinn Gara Grady

MHS Student Activists Team Rear: Liam Chenette, Gio Martinez, Elliot McDonald-Hall Front: Aliza Ebora, Majesty Moore, Katherine Miner

Photo: Aislinn Gara Grady

Photo: Aislinn Gara Grady

MHS Student Activists Team Rear: Liam Chenette, Gio Martinez, Elliot McDonald-Hall Front: Aliza Ebora, Majesty Moore, Katherine Miner

Harbinger Staff

A vibrant movement to change our school’s mascot has recently begun at Manchester High. The students behind this are part of the Student Activist Team.

Who are these activists? Some of these students  — juniors Liam Chenette, Gio Martinez, Majesty Moore, and Katherine Miner — shared their thoughts with Harbringer, answering questions on the changes that Manchester High face with the mascot.

Our Q&A with the students pushing for change:

Harbinger: Why do you think our mascot needs to be changed?

Katherine Miner: I think our mascot needs to be changed because it is culturally insensitive, and stereotypes an entire ethnicity of people unfairly. In addition to the racial prejudice the mascot perpetuates, it also misrepresents our school community. In actuality, a small percentage of the MHS student body is Native American, so it doesn’t even make sense to use the term as a symbol for our school. The word ‘Indian’ originated when Christopher Columbus first colonized the Americas, therefore this word is tied directly to the genocide of Native American people by Europeans, so along with its cultural insensitivity, using ‘Indian’ as a mascot completely downplays the gravity and historical significance behind the word.

Gio Martinez:  I personally believe the mascot should be changed because it does not represent our school and we have come to a point were the mascot isn’t used on uniforms anymore, so if we change it we could use something that is appropriate.

Majesty Moore: I believe the mascot should be changed because, other than the fact we barely use it as a school, I find it offensive to take a group of people, label, and demean them as a mascot. It feeds into a stereotype about Native Americans that people who are Native American feel pressure to strive to be.  

Liam Chenette: I believe the mascot needs to change because the Indian doesn’t reflect us as a high school nor as a town. We also need to change it because it’s wrong. To use a racial identity as a mascot is gross and our community cannot stand for that.

Harbinger: What motivated you to get involved in this?

Katherine Miner: I was motivated … for a few different reasons. I swim on the team here at MHS, and being a part of that team, being a captain, made me all the more inspired to help come up with a symbol that would accurately represent the pride I have in my team and my school. I also feel as though it’s kind of uncommon to be faced with an issue that does represent struggles with nationwide prejudice and race issues, but also has a large impact on my own community. The multi-level nature of this issue is part of the reason why I was so encouraged to help tackle it.

Gio Martinez:  I’ve never been afraid to speak out for what I believe in and originally I just wanted to do a speech on the walk out [last year], but I realized as a group we could do so much more

Majesty Moore: I personally had to put myself in the shoes of Native Americans and think, how would I feel if a school was labeled ‘Blackies’ and there was a symbol, like a person with dark skin and big lips, that is commonly used to exaggerate African-American features. I know I would feel uncomfortable because I would feel I am being mocked instead of ‘honored.’

Harbinger: What is the role of the School Activist Team? How did this group form? How can others get involved?

Katherine Miner: The Student Activist Team is a group of students here at MHS focused on learning about and combating different types of injustices, and helping to provide a student voice on relevant issues. I believe this group was formed out of the [national] school walk out last year. We wanted to take the really positive energy of activism from that event, and propel it forward, using it to discuss and take action on different topics that have impact on a community-wide and national level. If you would like to get involved, just email Mr. Skrzypiec, myself, or one of the other leaders of the group. ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] )

Majesty Moore: The role that we have as the Students Activist Team is to be the voice for the voiceless. When we see injustice or something that we feel needs to be changed, then it is our time to speak up about it. I joined after there was a discussion on the bus, when we were going to the Dismantling Racism Conference, about the mascot. We then made a survey to see how other students viewed the topic and we got over 200 responses in about 24 hours. The results were shocking … almost half the school was OK with it while the other half was not. We then started to get to work to change it.

Liam Chenette: The Student Activist Team is a group of students who want to ensure equity in the high school and the district. Equity not only in the classroom, but also after school and improving the Manchester community as a whole. All students who are interested are welcome to join and no one will be turned down no matter any identity or perspective on social/ political affiliation.

Habinger: What do you say to people who discredit the issue as a school tradition?

Katherine Miner: I understand that many people view the Indian mascot as a symbol of the honor and pride they take in their sport, their school, and their community. However, for much of the current student body, this mascot represents racism and prejudice rather than honor and tradition. I am not trying to take away the title or idea of ‘graduating an Indian’ from any alumni. I just want the opportunity to graduate under a mascot that I feel accurately represents the pride I have in my school.

Majesty Moore: Although I respect the fact there  are people who graduated as Indians and wants to stay an Indian, this school is inhabited now by students who feel the mascot should be changed. History is always changing and this is another aspect of history that many students in Manchester feel should be changed. Just because it is tradition, does not mean we negate the fact that the “tradition” is wrong.

Liam Chenette: I think that change is good. Former alumni are proud to be Indians, then fine, call yourselves the Indians. What this group is addressing is that a lot of students in this school feel it should change or we should get a better mascot.

Harbinger: Have you encountered any resistance from teachers, students, coaches, parents in the community? If so, how did you handle this?

Katherine Miner: I have found myself in multiple conversations with people questioning the mascot change. I’m not going to lie, it’s a difficult conversation to have, and when you’re interested and passionate about the issue at hand, it’s hard not to have a impulsive, emotional reaction. However, I have learned a lot from these experiences about having conversations with people who disagree with you. Not an argument, or a debate, but a conversation. Instead of jumping to ‘defend’ my opinion regarding the mascot, I’ve learned to listen more thoroughly to an opposing view, and try to explain my perspective, rather than just persuade.

Gio Martinez: So far I’ve faced very little resistance from students. Most students support the change. Out of the 100 signatures I obtained for the petition, I talked with only one student who felt the mascot did not need to be changed. The most resistance I felt has actually been from the alumni who feel that our group is trying to rewrite history or destroy Manchester. But that was online and not specifically targeted towards me. But I encourage anyone who wishes to talk about this issue to contact me!

Majesty Moore: I have encountered students who feel the mascot should not be changed. All I can do is state my opinions and why I feel this way. I cannot force anyone to change their opinion and that is something I have learned over time when discussing the mascot.

Liam Chenette: I have experienced resistance from people who want to keep the mascot. They will say that they like the mascot or they think there is nothing wrong with it and those people are entitled to their own opinion and they should be able to voice it. At the end of the day not everyone will be happy with the outcome of this discussion, but I feel people should voice their opinion even if they agree or don’t agree with me.

Harbinger: What were some of the responses from the petitioning at lunch?

Majesty Moore: I have had students who are eager to sign the petitions while I have had a table of students who did not want to sign it. The biggest question was, “What will the mascot be,” which is something we want to figure out as soon as possible. The responses were mixed but the talk about the mascot is what we want, so we can keep the momentum going on the discussion on the mascot.

Gio Martinez: The petition at lunch was very positive. Those who felt indifferent became inspired after talking to them [about] the reasons behind changing the mascot, and those who supported it beforehand quickly signed and asked for ways to help and be involved. The biggest question I got asked was, “What are we changing it too?”

Liam Chenette: There were mixed opinions about the petition going around at lunch. Some people were absolutely for it, some didn’t want to sign, and others did not care. This reflects on how diverse our school is, with different perspectives and stories to tell.

Harbinger: What is the process  for actually changing the mascot?

Katherine Miner: There is a lot of planning and organization necessary to going about this change, especially when enforcing the idea of an educational campaign. … Talking to other students and teachers that have gone through this change in their respective towns, brainstorming ways to format the student forums that are coming up, spending time going through the results of last year’s survey, are some of the organizational steps we took.

Gio Martinez: So the process varies school from school. but the way we are going about it is involving our community, educating them on the topic, and thinking about who our decisions impact –from the alumni to our athletics team — and thinking about costs and how we can help solve any conflicts.

Harbinger: Are there other issues that this group can tackle?

Gio Martinez: There are many issues our group could tackle, some that could be more controversial than our mascot and stretch out farther than just Manchester — like what is happening in Georgia with the abortion laws or the Brunei laws next year. We hope to have small campaigns over our large yearlong goal of changing the mascot.  

Liam Chenette: There are issues that this group could tackle and I hope we do so. The lack of safeness in classrooms, equity in the classroom, bullying, harassment, the list goes on. I think right now this group is focused on the mascot change, but after I hope we can see better change regarding these [issues] and so many other issues in our community.

Harbinger: Why is a group like this so important in a school environment?

Katherine Miner: I feel that a group centered around activism is important to have in a school environment because it gives a voice to students. I’m really lucky to have been able to find the platform to work toward change in my community, and the activist group has been essential in me being able to do so. In addition, it encourages students to have the hard discussions. Whether it was as a result of the walk-out, or as a result of the campaign to change the mascot, important conversations are occurring among the student body that might not otherwise be brought to light.

Gio Martinez: A group like this is so important in a school environment due to teachers and adults telling students “use your voice, use your voice, your voice is the most powerful tool.” This is a way for us to use our voice and affect things in the school and the community that matter to us.

Liam Chenette:  A group like this is so important in school because it gives voices to the voiceless. Groups who are different from societal norms are shut down and often ignored in this country and we are starting to see a change with allowing different stories to be told.

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