Groundbreaking research by Dr. Stephanie A. Fryberg of the University of Arizona ought to have both the school board and administration of the Mukwonago Area Schools rethinking their Indian logo and nickname policy in its entirety. The research raises the disturbing reality that Indian nicknames and logos narrow the horizons for achievement and self-identity for Native-American children while the dominant race and culture at such schools have their place as the superior party raised and confirmed for them.
Since the Fryberg research in 2002, hundreds of other related studies on this line of psychological research have confirmed the findings that should so disturb anyone who cares about the sense of personal identity and self-worth and image our children have of themselves. Fryberg testified in a case via an affidavit involving the Osseo-Fairchild, Wisconsin school district, a case eerily similar to the one being presently played out so dramatically in Mukwonago.
Five research studies where empirical research evidence was obtained, three of them with Native-American students, one with Euro-American students, and one content analysis of media led to the following findings that Indian nicknames, mascots and logos:
“1) Lowers the self-esteem of American Indian Students 2)Reduce American Indian students’ belief that their community has the power and resources to resolve problems (community efficacy) and 3) reduces the number of achievement related future goals that American Indian Students see for themselves. (achievement related possible selves)”
Euro-American students studied actually had their self-esteem raised via exposure to the logos and nicknames so like the ones in Mukwonago. Most startling about the research is that Fryberg’s empirical and peer-reviewed studies exploded the myth that Native-American children who profess support for the logos and nicknames are unhurt. In point of fact, her research shows that these children are actually more adversely affected then Indian children who opposed the logos.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is at the moment of this writing reviewing the written exhibits and hearing testimony of both the Mukwonago Area Schools and Rain Koepke, the native-American young man who made the original complaint and his colleagues at the Wisconsin Indian Education Association who have so valiantly come forward to aid him in advocating for his cause. The decision on the Mukwonago logo issue could come any day. It was to be announced by the Department within 45 days of the submission of final arguments by the parties on September 9th 2010.
The bottom line of the research is that there is distinct evidence of “race-based psychological harm” to the children studied. This should be sobering to the school officials in Mukwonago. But to date there is no indication that they have acted appropriately to review and modify their policy on the logo issue. When children are being harmed by something, it is incumbent upon school officials in the Wisconsin K-12 system to act to prevent it. That could best be accomplished by simply ending the use of the Indian nickname and retiring the logo.
In Wisconsin, and around the nation, public schools ought to make it a policy not to use nicknames and logos related to races of people or ethnic groups. It would seem the safest course for our children. In Mukwonago, the district is continuing to use an outmoded and now throughly discredited policy fashioned as a “Corrective Action Plan” ordered by the DPI and approved by the DPI back in 1996, when this research had not yet been done or analyzed. But now it is here and its implications are deeply troublesome to anyone concerned about the welfare and the personal self concept of children of all colors, and ethnic origins. Even the Euro-American kids do not benefit from developing any kind of over-inflated sense of their worth in relation to all the rest of their brothers and sisters around the world. They do not stand beneath anyone. But neither do their brothers and sisters: peoples who come from every nation on Earth and make up an excitingly diverse and robust America of 2010.
The folks in Mukwonago need to go to school. The writer of this essay is doing so as well. And thus far the reading is enlightening and confirming the belief that we all have equal possibilities for fully realizing our potential. Only we should not have obstacles thrown in our way that insensitively belittle who we are.