Posted Date: 10/19/2020
Board Hears Committee Report on Mascot Issue
The Committee to Reconsider Union’s Mascot updated the Board of Education on the progress made to date as they explore whether to keep the Redskins mascot. The group has held two meetings via Zoom – On Sept. 15 and 29 – since their last update to the school board.
At the September 15 meeting, the committee examined email correspondence the district has received in response to the mascot, both “for” and “against.” “Seventy percent of the communications we have received from constituents have been in favor of making a change,” said Committee Chairman Chris Payne, who serves as Chief Communications Officer for the district. “And about 30 percent have asked that we retain the mascot.”
Among the reasons given by letter-writers for keeping the mascot are the following:
• Tradition/an identity with which Union alums strongly identify;
• Many believe the name “honors Native Americans” and take great pride in the name;
• “Union has always taught honor and respect” for the name;
• “It’s a celebration of our history”;
• “Removing this beloved warrior would be a disservice to Union alumni”;
• A number of people have said they do not find the name offensive (both Native and non-Native people);
• “If outsiders don’t understand the name, that’s their problem”;
• “This is all about political correctness” and “catering to the whiners,” the “vocal minority”; and
• “This would be erasing history” and is “cancel culture.”
Those in favor of eliminating the mascot cite the following reasons:
• It’s a derogatory term (as defined by almost every dictionary);
• Union is “neglecting the elephant in the room. When does the district intend to address its institutionalized mockery of a group of people who shaped Oklahoma?”;
• “It’s a longstanding wrong within our district”;
• “People are NOT mascots”;
• Union students are often put in awkward situations having to defend a mascot that many consider offensive;
• Some feel this mascot no longer aligns with Union’s core values, particularly in the area of inclusiveness; and
• Others point to the great diversity of our student body, “yet we still have a mascot that refers to skin color.”
At the September 29 meeting, Payne said they were joined by Dr. Derek Jennings, a Union alum and a member of the Quapaw and Sac and Fox nations, and a practicing member of the Bear Clan. “He is a researcher specializing in health-related issues of indigenous cultures and is familiar with much of the research related to the effects of Native American mascots. Dr. Jennings walked the committee through the findings,” said Payne. “The research is not flattering when it comes to Native American mascots. It shows largely negative effects.” In general, they:
• Glorify and perpetuate stereotypes of indigenous people that dehumanize them;
• Disrespect their spiritual beliefs and values and undermines their cultural identity;
• Increases stress, depression, anxiety and anger of Native American students;
• Decreases self-esteem of indigenous people; and
• There is research that shows negative attitudes toward Native American mascots limits what teachers and non-Native people view as what’s possible for Native American youth.
Next steps for the committee include compiling a list of reasons to keep – or drop – the mascot. They will be evaluating these reasons through the lens of the district’s core values. They are expected to deliver a recommendation to the board no later than the December 14 meeting.
“We’ve been doing a lot of thinking, discussing and soul-searching,” said Payne. “People are extremely passionate on both sides of the issue, and that also goes for people serving on the committee. If there’s one message I’m getting loud and clear from people, there is great love and affection for Union, almost without exception.”
Payne said, “We have not a decision yet. Please do not take any of these comments as an inclination that we are going one way or the other. We really won’t know until we vote.”
Board Member Ken Kinnear, a non-voting member of the committee, said, “I appreciate your leadership on this. You really have brought out comments from both sides. What a joy it has been to see a discussion of issues versus an argument of issues. Nevertheless, it will come down to, I think, a very tough, tough discussion.”
To share your thoughts and comments on Union’s mascot, please email [email protected]. In the event you would like to make your case in a video presentation, email [email protected] and you will receive a secure link with which to upload your video. Please limit videos to no more than three minutes in length. All comments will be shared with the committee.
Board Schedules Zone 1 Election for Next Year
The Board of Education scheduled the upcoming general election for District #1 on April 6, 2021. The seat is currently held by Jeff Bennett.
If more than two qualified candidates file for the position, a primary election will be held on February 9, 2021. The primary election, if necessary, will be conducted in the same manner as the general election.
If a candidate in the primary election receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast, that candidate shall be elected to the Board of Education and no general election shall be necessary.
The filing period for Board of Education Zone 1 candidates will begin at 8 a.m., Monday, December 7, and will end at 5 p.m., Wednesday, December 9.
Board Renews Agreement with Blackboard for Messaging Services
The Board of Education renewed Union’s online messaging subscription with Blackboard, Inc., for $95,042 out of bond funds.
Union uses this web-based notification system to contact employees, parents, and students during weather-related closings and emergencies and to communicate other important information via automated phone calls, emails, and texts throughout the year.
“We have been using the Blackboard system since 2008,” said Chief Communications Officer Chris Payne said. “We have been very satisfied with the Blackboard Connect product, which includes training and reliable, 24-hour-a-day technical support. It has been especially helpful in communicating to parents and students on an almost daily basis during the pandemic.”
In other action, the Board: