- Massena Daily Courier
MASSENA — Two graduating Massena Central High School seniors shared their concerns with Board of Education members Thursday night about the use of the Red Raider school nickname and, in some cases, the use of the old Indian head mascot or lack of any mascot.
Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said two seniors, Paige Cook and KC Herne, along with counselor Julie White, had addressed the board’s Policy Committee in May about the lack of a school mascot and continued use of the old mascot in some circles. They were part of a School Climate Committee that had been formed in October following a racial incident at the high school led to disparaging remarks on social media and divisiveness among students.
Ms. Cook was one of the students who addressed the board Thursday night, along with James Donnelly.
“They requested to come tonight and talk to you tonight about some of the issues,” Mr. Brady said.
Ms. Cook said they were asking the board members to take some action on their concerns.
She said the Indian head that had served as the school’s mascot was offensive to Native Americans, as well as the name Red Raiders. The “red” portion of the name signified savage Native Americans, she said.
“It’s not something used to create pride in the school. It’s really created a division in school between students,” Ms. Cook said.
She said whenever there was a racial occurrence in school, it was almost always a result of the mascot.
Ms. Cook recalled the last racial incident when a member of one of Massena’s sports teams used a derogatory term toward a Native American player on the opposing team. After that, many of the Native American students were upset and ended up in guidance offices, she said.
“It influenced their learning and it influenced their life and it made them scared to come to the school. It made them uncomfortable in their classrooms with their classmates,” she said.
“This is something that has continually influenced their learning environment, and it’s created a hostile learning environment to a very significant amount of your students. That’s something you need to recognize and you need to try and change it. You need to make sure that all of your students are happy and healthy and learning the best they can,” Ms. Cook told board members.
The lack of a mascot was also an issue because, in some cases, it led to the use of the old mascot, she said. She said members of the hockey team has received new lettermen jackets that had the old Indian head mascot on them and, while she understood they were proud and wanted to fight for their school, it was a situation that the board needed to address.
“Sports teams keep using the old mascot because you didn’t give them anything to put in its place,” Ms. Cook said.
Mr. Donnelly said, as an athlete, he was also concerned that there was no mascot. Instead, he said, the school used the letter “M” and the Raiders name.
“That’s our mascot right now. We need something to replace the M,” he said.
Mr. Donnelly suggested that students could come with ideas, such as Pirates, which was used by the Massena Volunteer Fire Department.
“When we come in and everybody says 1-2-3 Raiders, we think of the Red Raiders, we don’t think of the M,” he said.
Ms. Cook and Mr. Donnelly said they were in favor of adding a new mascot and keeping the name Raiders without the word Red in front of it.
“The name Raiders is on a lot of the sports gear,” Ms. Cook said. “We would like to open it up for discussion.”
“Traditions have a start at one point. It has to start at one point,” Mr. Donnelly said.
Board Vice President Patrick Bronchetti said his concern was that others needed to be involved in the talks, including alumni and members of the school’s Hall of Fame Committee.
“I’d like to have maybe people from the Hall of Fame Committee and people from the past have input as well,” he said.
Mr. Brady said, as they begin to look at their district goals for the 2017-18 school year, the issue needed to be part of that conversation.
Ms. Cook and Mr. Donnelly, however, won’t be part of that conversation as graduates, but others were ready to step forward.
“There are lot of juniors that do care and are willing to speak,” Ms. Cook said.