By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
East Bay High School will remain the East Bay Indians, but the Ruskin Elementary Braves will no longer carry the nickname or the mascot of “Braves” once the votes are counted.
According to the Hillsborough County School District, ballots have been distributed to students, staff and families at six public schools to vote for the mascot of their choice from a designated list. These six schools are being asked to select a new mascot that, according to the HCSD, “is welcoming to everyone and does not make anyone feel like they’re disrespected at HCSD.” A group of final names for mascots has been provided on the ballots, which are being sent out this week. Ballots will be returned to the schools next week, and the principals and staff will review them in anticipation of coming up with a new moniker.
The five elementary schools being asked to drop their current mascot or nicknames are Ruskin, Brooker, Forest Hills, Summerfield and Thonotosassa. Adams Middle School is also being requested, according to the HCSD “to choose a new mascot that is welcoming to everyone and doesn’t make anyone feel like they are not respected at the schools.”
Two Hillsborough high schools, the East Bay Indians and the Chamberlain Mighty Chiefs, will retain their current mascots and nicknames as both have made substantial modifications to the depictions of the Native American mascots currently in use for the images and ceremonies at the schools. For the past two years, students and staff at these two schools have worked with the parent advisory committee to review every element of how they portray Native American cultures. Both schools have made significant changes to images, clothing, traditions and more through this partnership.
The HCSD spokesperson said, “We believe students at the high school level are better prepared to understand the differences and sensitivities around cultures. These cultural details are now part of the learning for students, and this is the legacy these students are leaving for future students.”
Working with a parent advisory group representing the Native American community, all six schools making changes have committed to choosing a new mascot for the future. The five elementary schools and one middle school have been using Native American images as their mascots.
According to the HCSD, the current mascots do not respect every culture and every person in Hillsborough County communities. Using Native American images and mascots can easily reduce living human beings to the level of a cartoon, caricature or stereotype, according to the HCSD. Even when there is no bad intent, these images can carry on and spread some of the symbols of the most painful parts of our great country’s history.
Two years ago, the Hillsborough School Board approved a Racial Equity Policy for Hillsborough County Public Schools to ensure students have respectful learning environments where their racial and ethnic diversity is valued. In 2018, Hillsborough County School Board members were recognized with the RISE award, which recognizes innovative strategies in equity. The award was given to only one school board in the nation.