One of the things my family and I had to do once we made the move from our former home in Winston to the Colorado Springs area, where I now work as an editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette, was to switch our license plates over.
How does this relate to Roseburg? More on that later.
Colorado, like Oregon, has themed license plates, and we still had our plates from before we moved to Oregon for my former job at The News-Review. One of our sets of plates has the name of the college I graduated from, Mesa State College, in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Except the school isn’t named Mesa State anymore. It’s now Colorado Mesa University.
I can still remember how furious I was that my school was changing its name and, to a point, I still am. I spent years during my time in college trying to promote the school’s name through the school paper and other avenues. I had at least a half dozen arguments for it not to change and even wrote emails to then Mesa President Tim Foster and then Gov. John Hickenlooper in opposition.
So in defiance, I purchased a plate after the name change was made that still had the “Mesa State College” name on it. “Yep,” I thought. “I’ll keep this on my car, people will see it and it’ll keep people thinking the school is still named Mesa State. That’ll show ‘em.”
It didn’t. The school is still named Colorado Mesa University, or CMU for short. I simply call it “Mesa” for short.
Meanwhile, back in Oregon, there’s still significant pushback against anyone who dares suggest that Roseburg High School stray from their “Indians” nickname. Charles Lee, a local attorney and member of the Roseburg School Board, was the lone dissenter when it came to the decision to consider a name change, thus casting the decisive vote for the mascot name to stay. His reasoning was that it’s how many who attended the school identify themselves, so why take that away?
At one point, I felt the same way.
During my first stint at The News-Review as a sports reporter from 2002 to 2007, I penned an opinion piece in regards to an individual who lobbied the Oregon Department of Education to get rid of American Indian mascot names. The strongest argument was that even though nicknames like “Indians” or “Savages” or “Redskins” still existed, there’s no way team names in any sport like the Negros or the Mexicans would ever, ever fly.
And I vividly remember two other points I made. First, I believed we as a society had evolved enough to look past skin color and see ethnicities more as a culture than a race. Second, I believed if we were going to change one mascot name in regards to ethnicity, we should change them all. The latter was such a popular opinion that Brian Prawitz, now a member of the Roseburg City Council, later posted his own opinion piece to social media in 2012 echoing an almost identical stance.
To the first point, the events of last year in Portland, Minneapolis and other major cities prove there’s still problem with racism in this country that likely never left. If anything, there are places where race relations haven’t evolved, but devolved, and that’s in spite of efforts to right wrongs from the past.
To the second point, change already appears to be happening.
The Washington Football Team no longer has a mascot named the Redskins – or any mascot for that matter – and will decide on a new mascot next year. The Cleveland Indians next year will be the Cleveland Guardians. More than a handful of college football teams, most notably the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, have changed their mascot name, and imagery, over the past two decades.
The state of Colorado passed legislation banning the use or imagery of American Indian mascots for high schools earlier this year, and those who don’t change will face a hefty fine. Of course, I’m sure some people will think it’s all political and maybe even point to Colorado being a state that’s voted heavily Democratic over the past three elections.
In spite of that, the school board at Cheyenne Mountain High School, one of the older high schools in Colorado and Colorado Springs, had its school board vote to ditch the “Indians” mascot almost two months before the state legislation passed in Denver.
Colorado Springs, by the way, is arguably one of the most conservative big cities in the nation. It’s home of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Focus on the Family and a Catholic diocese of close to 190,000 people, and it’s the largest municipality in the state which doesn’t allow the sale of recreational marijuana. The county also hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 – the same year Douglas County, Oregon, last voted for one.
Yet, a school board in this staunchly conservative city was willing to make that move on the mascot name. And Roseburg isn’t.
This sets a dangerous precedent. To me, it seems that Roseburg has never been too keen on growth, but it eventually will need more businesses to come here to supply jobs. If the high school continues to take this stance while the rest of the country moves in another direction, it provides an out for those companies to find somewhere else to expand.
Granted, I’m going to keep my Mesa State College license plate, and I’ll probably continue to tell people I graduated from Mesa State since that was the name of the school when I went there. But I also know full well that the rest of the world is moving on without me to call the school by its new name now, and I’m OK with that.
But in this case, we’re also talking about a school, not a specific group of human beings. Such a stance could be detrimental for a community, and Roseburg digging in while the rest of the world moves on is not a good look.