On March 10, 2021

Rutland group fears Rutland Ravens will become Raiders again with new school board members

By Katy Savage

A month after the Rutland Raiders name was changed to the Rutland Ravens, some fear it could be switched back.

Three Rutland school board members, who led a campaign called S.O.S., were elected on Town Meeting Day, promising to demand the name change be reconsidered.

Tricia O’Connor, an occupational therapist, got 1,572 votes, incumbent Charlene Seward got 1,510 votes, and Stephanie Stoodley got 1,459 votes. While incumbent Mathew Olewnik fell short of a spot on the board with 1,107 votes.

The school board voted to change the Rutland City Public Schools’ Raiders name to the Ravens in a 6-4 vote in February, after public concerns that the Raiders name and arrowhead symbol was offensive to Native Americans.

The vote was made after a group of students researched the pros and cons of 10 different mascot names. A survey found 57% of students in grades 3-12 favored being called the Ravens.

But the new name has been contentious in town, with some saying the vote was done without enough public input. The S.O.S. group, which campaigned heavily, has taken issue with how the board voted, saying the vote wasn’t public enough and should have been left to the community.

A Facebook group called Positive Change Rutland was created in November 2020 in response to the “rage” associated with the S.O.S. group.

“The poor arguments they were making and the misinformation they were applauding made it clear they still didn’t hear or understand why we felt the mascot needed to be changed,” according to a group member who wished to remain anonymous.

The Positive Change Rutland group member feared the name would likely switch back.

“It’s very possible that the school board can get enough votes together between them to vote the Raiders back into existence. We know that is exactly what Stoodley and O’Connor want to do,” the member said.

Some schools with Native American mascots have changed their names recently. South Burlington High School changed its mascot from the Rebels to the Wolves in 2017.

The Vermont Principals Association also issued a statement in August that broadly disapproves of Native American names being used as mascots in Vermont schools.

“We believe that mascots and all school symbols should support feelings of belonging and inclusivity for students in the wider community,” according to the statement. “Any mascot, nickname, symbol, or logo that has marginalizing, racist or exclusionary elements should be replaced,” the statement said.

While the VPA isn’t requiring schools to change their names at this time, Positive Change Rutland speculated sports teams could be sanctioned for not changing their names in the future.

“We feel that if anyone in the community is offended by anything it is worth looking into,” the group member said. “If we are talking about racism, as we are in this case, it’s worth changing.”

Author’s note: Attempts to reach O’Connor, Stoodley and Seward weren’t successful before deadline, but their perspective is welcomed and can hopefully be included in the next article.

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