The Indians have been the Manchester High School mascot since 1949, but a group of current students is spearheading a proposal to change that.
"I just think that having that word is inherently divisive and hateful," said Katherine Miner, an incoming Manchester High School Senior.
Miner and several other students did some research into the topic and also polled students. They say they found about 57 percent want the change, 14 percent want to keep it the way it is, and 28 percent don't care. The students presented an alternative mascot, the Red Hawks. At a public forum they hosted at the high school Wednesday night, they found that not everyone is thrilled with the idea.
"I do not think it's disrespectful that Manchester High School has an Indian mascot because I think it's honoring the Indians," said Ed Berggren, who graduated MHS in 1947.
"The Podunk which we named our Indian after was a great tribe," said Wally Irish, who graduated MHS in 1965.
Irish says it's important to respect the past.
"I feel that what's happening here is a good interchange of youth involvement, but I think, as I said, our class motto was to respect the past, live in the present, and look to the future. And I don't think enough of the past was respected in that the Podunk Indians who occupied this area did a tremendous job of maintaining it," said Irish.
Other alumni say this is something that's been discussed for several years and it's about time the change was made.
"They're not looking to erase anyone's memories I don't think. They're just looking to move on from what has become an unfortunate and hurtful stereotype," said Tom Breen, who graduated MHS in 1996.
Despite the differences, everyone at the forum praised the students for hosting it and for starting a discussion. Everyone hopes to find some more middle ground.
"I do think that definitely getting some alum involved in trying to honor the indigenous people's heritage in this community, in this school, would be something I'd definitely be interested in helping with," said Miner.
A district spokesperson says that if the mascot changed, the cost would be minimal. The Board of Education is set to discuss the proposal at its next meeting next week.
Regarding the proposal, Superintendent Matt Geary sent this email to the Manchester school community:
"At last Monday’s Board of Education meeting, six students from Manchester High School gave a presentation about the high school mascot, advocating that the school drop its “Indians” nickname in favor of “Red Hawks.” The Board of Education will consider this proposal, and potentially vote on the matter, at their next meeting, which is Monday, June 24 at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Center. I’m writing to share a few thoughts and some background.
"First, the student activists, many of whom are from our junior class, spent months researching the topic, work that included surveying their classmates and the high school staff. You can see the report by clicking here. For members of the community who are interested, students from Manchester High School have scheduled a forum on Wednesday, June 19 at 6 p.m. to get feedback and input from residents about the proposal to drop the high school’s “Indians” nickname in favor of “Red Hawks.” The forum will be in Room 293 of the Freshman Center, which is on the Summit Street side of the high school.
"High schools, colleges and even professional sports teams throughout the country have for years wrestled with issues related to team nicknames that some people consider offensive and divisive. The debates are often emotional because of factors that include an institution’s traditions. This is proving to be the case in Manchester, as just in the past few days there has been a lot of passionate dialogue on social media and elsewhere about the students’ proposal.
"I am not surprised that students are pushing for this change given the increasing diversity of our community and the significant efforts of the town to promote inclusion and community engagement among its diverse residents. In addition, the Board of Education is focused on building equity and understanding in order to close the existing achievement and opportunity gaps and uphold our mission to create safe, inclusive schools where equity is the norm and excellence is the goal.
"Like many of you, I have a personal opinion on this issue. I believe that the use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools can be derogatory and harmful. Even where well intended, these mascots promote stereotypical and often insulting images of American Indians. Multiple well respected national organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (1968), the American Psychological Association (2005) and Anti-Defamation League (2013) have taken positions against the use of American Indian mascots based on research on the impact of these mascots.
When I became principal of the high school in 2012, we de-emphasized the mascot by not including the Indian name or associated images on new sports uniforms, apparel, and signage. Instead we emphasized the word Manchester, which to me is a community that values diversity, inclusivity, and equity, none of which are symbolized by a controversial mascot. There remain prominent signs in and around the building that feature the Indian name and imagery and I believe strongly that changes to those kinds of prominent symbols should only be made when the school community deems that they should be.
"Although there is no school board policy covering school mascots, I have asked that board members add the students’ request for a name change as an ‘action item’ on the June 24 agenda. Members of the public will have an opportunity to make public comments at the outset of the meeting, and also can contact board members in advance. (Here’s the contact information.) Board members will have an opportunity to discuss the item during the meeting. Any decision about the mascot would be made by a formal vote by the nine elected officials who govern the Manchester Public Schools.
"I am so proud of the work done by the students at the high school who are advocating for change. They have thought deeply about the impact of the mascot, conducted research on this issue, worked to get input from fellow students and staff, and handled themselves with dignity and class. They are a shining example of the bright, thoughtful, articulate young adults that attend Manchester High School and their efforts should be commended.