Rutland residents will not vote on whether or not to change the Rutland High School’s nickname “Raiders” and arrowhead logo, after a motion to put the question to a non-binding vote at Town Meeting in March failed 5-5 at the Board of Aldermen’s meeting Monday. The measure needed seven votes to get on the ballot.
Aldermen supporting a vote were: Thomas DePoy, Sam Gorruso, Sharon Davis, Paul Clifford and William Gillam. Those apposing a vote were: Rebecca Mattis, Melinda Humphrey, Lisa Ryan, Michael Talbott and Chris Ettori.
Controversy surrounding the change has ignited residents and alumni who cherish the traditional school nickname and feel left out of the decision. Last month the School Board voted 6-4 to retire both the nickname and symbol at the request of a group of students and alumni who said it was offensive to Native Americans.
The school used to be known as the “Red Raiders” and was represented by a logo depicting the profile of a tribal chief, but those were replaced several years ago in favor of just the name “Raiders” and an arrowhead logo.
Supporters of the Raiders name and tradition gathered to show support for keeping the Rutland nickname and arrowhead symbol on Tuesday, Nov. 10. The “Raider Rally” was held outside the Rutland Recreation Community Center, and about 100 people attended. It was organized by a local group called Raider Strong. Supporters of the “Raiders” name have also showed up to public meetings — both School Board and Board of Aldermen— and written letters to the editor in the Rutland Herald and Mountain Times newspapers.
On both sides of the argument, groups have disagreed whom should have the power to decide such matters. Those who want to keep the nickname and logo want more of a say in the matter, appealing for a public vote. While those who want to retire them say such issues that offend certain groups and could be considered racist should be decided by the school board — who are voted in to their leadership roles by residents. Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis is among them, arguing that the issue didn’t belong to the Alderman at all and that different branches of city government needed to respect each other’s roles. This issue, she said, was in the purview of the school board.
Similar issues have arisen around the state and the country recently. This past August, The Vermont Principals’ Association weighed in releasing a statement advising schools: “Any mascot, nickname, symbol or logo that has marginalizing, racist or exclusionary elements should be replaced to demonstrate what it means to be an inclusive, welcoming and strong community.”
And most recently, Rep. William Notte (D-Rutland), announced Friday, Nov. 13, that he will be introducing a bill in the Legislature (when the it reconvenes in January), that will be modeled after one passed in Maine last year, which bans the use of Native American names and imagery as school mascots, nicknames or logos.
The Maine law states that public schools “may not have or adopt a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name of the school.” It was approved unanimously by Maine’s state Legislature.
Notte is husband of School Board Chairwoman Alison Notte, who has received multiple threats and calls for her resignation since the board voted last month to retire the Raiders name. Notte said that her experience motivated him in part to introduce the bill. And those that want to keep the name and symbol have been targeted, too. Brittany Cavacas, who has written letters to the editor and been a vocal advocate for the tradition of the “Raider” name, has reported being spat on and called a white supremacist.
Such matters should be determined by state policy, Notte said, in order to keep smaller communities safe and supportive of all their members, and so volunteer board members don’t feel threatened.
On Saturday, Nov. 14, Rep. William Notte shared a post from the group “Positive Change Rutland” that read in part: “The group in Rutland Vermont that wants to keep the RHS Raiders mascot is not a few people trying to re-live their glory days. It’s a LOT of people in the community who have grown up with this mascot and have never recognized or understood the issue. They are vocal and they have a lot of support of their friends and family, many of which have been in the community for generations.
It doesn’t mean they are right, because the are not. They are under the impression that might means right. They are saying we need to be educated, we need to wake up, and we need to realize that The Raiders Way is a tradition and a legacy that far outweighs a mascot that they don’t even see as harmful, or exclusionary, or offensive…
The ‘I am a Rutland Raider’ Facebook page has over 1300 members…
We are far from the first to get rid of the Raider mascot. The name and logo is clearly born of racism and exclusion. And the school board already voted to get rid of it in a proper democratic way, and rightly so…
This site and the group was created to start promoting positive change. We need a whole lot more voices and a whole lot more action. And we need a whole lot more ideas, dialog, education and explanation of why it is important to do this.”