Jeffery L. Bineham

Jeffery L. Bineham

I am a graduate of Roseburg High School and I am pleased that the board of Roseburg Public Schools has decided to consider the retirement and replacement of the current mascot. I support the selection of a different mascot.

While respectful representations of Native American people are possible, they are unlikely when the representation reduces a specific culture, or numerous cultures, to a team or school mascot. We would not make mascots of other historically subordinated groups; we should not continue to use mascots of Native Americans.

I expect the board will encounter at least three types of arguments as they gather public input on this issue. One type of argument will emphasize tradition: the extensive history the school has with the team name “Indians.” Change is difficult because many memories are linked to the moniker and image that has long represented RHS.

Another type of argument will emphasize that the name is meant to honor indigenous tribes: that to call ourselves “Indians” is a way to promote the positive values by which those tribes live.

And a third type of argument, one which will come both from those who desire and oppose a change, will emphasize the degree to which the mascot is “offensive.” Some will claim that the board should replace the mascot because it is distasteful and stirs feelings of irritation and resentment. Others will claim that the board should keep the mascot because those who want change are too easily offended and we should not acquiesce to demands based on the claim that someone has suffered an affront.

None of these arguments should be the basis for the board’s decision. We all relate to RHS’s historical use of the mascot in different ways. We have different sentiments about whether it is an honorific. We disagree about whether it is or should be offensive. We will likely not find common ground about these matters of memory and taste.

But board members need not and should not consider these questions of personal opinion to make this decision. They should ask instead whether the use of such mascots contributes to some significant harm and whether the elimination of that harm is a legitimate educational interest.

The answers to those questions are clear. Ample evidence exists to demonstrate that names and images matter. They suggest ways of thinking and acting, and they influence the formation of our identities.

The American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association provide bibliographies of numerous studies about this issue (tinyurl.com/asabiblio and tinyurl.com/apabiblio). The studies demonstrate how these mascots contribute to harmful misconceptions and stereotypes about Native American cultures and religious practices, bullying of Native Americans, damaging mental health effects on Native American youth, discrimination against Native Americans, and the creation of hostile learning environments for Native American students.

Careful research demonstrates that mascots like “Indians,” even when well-intentioned, are harmful to students and detrimental to education. So whether you think the name honors indigenous peoples does not matter. Whether you are offended or not offended by it does not matter. Whether a local tribe supports the mascot does not matter.

The harmful effects have been demonstrated. That is what matters and that is what the school board, a group charged with making policies that preserve the best education possible for all students, should be concerned about. For that reason, I hope they will retire the current mascot.

Jeffery L. Bineham graduated from Roseburg High School in 1976 and is a professor in the Communication Studies Department at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

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NJ

I like how you think. You also need to know I have my senior yearbook. Ditched the glasses, eh Soph? My best to you and yours. Stay safe and stay warm.

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