Roseburg Public Schools is creating a strategy on how to address the Roseburg High School mascot and school building names, a process that starts with board members sending inquiries to Superintendent Jared Cordon.
The question Cordon posed to board members was, “Is there information that you need in order to engage in a thoughtful, informed discussion regarding the RHS mascot and/or school building names as they relate to our equity?”
Cordon said he would like to receive any responses by Monday, so that he can start working on collecting data and coming up with strategies before the Jan. 27 board meeting.
During a work session on Wednesday, several board members pointed out that they would like to discuss the mascot name separate from the school building names.
School board member Howard Johnson suggested reaching out to Umpqua Community College to see how it went about changing its mascot from the Timbermen to the Riverhawks in 2005.
“I firmly believe that I think the mascot needs to change, number one,” school board member Brandon Bishop said. “But number two, I don’t want to make that decision. I want that to be a community decision.”
School board member Micki Hall asked her fellow board members to be aware of the power imbalances inherent in the issue.
“We have to understand and be aware of what are called power imbalances,” she said. “Power imbalances between students, between teachers and students, between teachers — and understand those imbalances. We can do that if you listen to kids that have been that have gone through the high school and their experience. (Students) that are Native Americans, foreign, or minorities, even power imbalances between genders. Because there are lots of stories, and those stories don’t always get told.”
One of those people who told such a story was Annie Reichelt, a 1997 RHS grad who spoke out during public participation.
“I was sexually harassed, so much I don’t even have words for how,” she said, before switching to the topic of the mascot. “It was not a fun experience for me at Roseburg —I mean there were parts of it that I loved. But thinking of power: You on the board you have the power to change this. And I know it’s scary. I know that it’s not super popular in Roseburg. I know it’s hard. I know it’s not popular necessarily with everyone down there.”
Johnson said, “We need to change because we need to move forward. And to move forward we need to move forward as a united community, rather than a divided community.”
There were four people, including three Roseburg High School graduates, who spoke about the mascot during public participation, all in favor of changing the mascot name.
“The word that comes to mind as I saw this meeting convened was hypocrisy,” 2002 RHS grad Rebecca Snyder said. “When you talk about equity, but yet you’re not making a quick move to change this. That’s very concerning and does not feel that equity of all children and youth are your priority.”
A petition was started this summer by Roseburg High School alumnus Jessica Bascom to change the name of the mascot. The petition had received more than 5,400 signatures by Wednesday.
Bascom, an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe who also has Creek and Cherokee heritage, argued that the mascot is racist and cited studies that pointed out the long-term detrimental effects of native mascots on native students.
School board member Charles Lee said the mascot was created as a symbol of pride and not out of racism, but Hall pointed out that use of the mascot has not always been non-vitriolic or non-vicious.
“I think it’s important for us to do the right thing, even though it may be the wrong time,” Hall said.
This is not the first time the mascot has caused controversy within the Roseburg school district. The logo was changed to a feather and the school district was required by the state to sign an agreement with a local tribe to continue the use of the name in 2017.
Hall said the agreement with the tribe was revisited in late 2020, something that was not done in public and school board vice chair Steve Patterson was unaware of. According to Hall, the tribe would be OK with any decision the school board makes.