How do we talk with one another about an event that has angered us and left all of us on both sides of the logo issue with dismay at how it has been handled and how we all might come together as a community to make a very difficult transition? Despite how we feel about it that change is coming.
First, we all need to respect one another. Students who stood fast against changing the logo and the Indian nickname were for the most part showing good citizenship and real concern for a tradition that has been valued very much by so many people for a very long time. That is something anyone can understand and Struggles For Justice does. Those very few hardy souls who recognized the justice and simple courtesy of making the change for many Native-Americans who are bothered by this logo and nickname being used can be understood too. The only way any of us can be losers, is if we stop respecting and caring for one another. You know the United States Marine Corps told my students last year that they don’t leave anybody, and I mean anybody behind in a fight. They take care of each other. That impressed me and my students too. Why can’t we who are part of the greater Mukwonago community served by its schools do something very much like that. Those students who favor the change can come forward and let others know they understand their feelings and respect them. The majority of students who did not want this change have to somehow reach out to the minority realizing that those few who are on the other side are your fellow classmates and we would never ever let anyone down who is part of Mukwonago on the playing field or in the classroom or in our busy halls.
Second, we must speak to each other in the language of inclusion and not exclusion. It is not us versus them or anything of the kind. Seeing each other as walking the same trail together can help defuse the feelings we all are having no matter where we stood or even now proudly stand on the issue.
Third, the entire Mukwonago Area Schools community needs to fully understand the reason this change has to be made. It is for one reason and one reason only. Yet there are a couple of component parts to the thing. Research that is solid and the District now says they support as credible shows that your fellow classmates who may in some degree identify themselves however quietly as Native-American kids actually have their basic self-esteem, the feeling of who they are hurt or curbed by the logo and the nickname Indians being used. They may and surely do say they support the logo and nickname. But research says those that do are hurt the most. Wouldn’t you want to fit in with everybody else if you were in the distinct minority? It is perfectly natural. Someone like Rain Koepke is hurt by the logo and nickname but not as much because he has the strength to stand up and be heard and to act to defend the identity of his people. Those students who can trace their ancestry back to the dominant group in Mukwonago as Euro-American whites according to the research have your sense of superiority over other groups inflated or enhanced by the use of the logo and Indian nickname in ways that may be only subconsciously known to you. Certainly, the charge that you have been disrespectful to the Mukwonago image and name are ill-founded. No District has tried harder to minimize this kind of discrimination since 1996 and the Department of Public Instruction recognized that.
But since then things have changed a lot. There is this groundbreaking research by Dr. Fryberg at the University of Arizona. Early attempts by other scholars to discredit her astounding findings that people could be hurt in any way by these representations of Native-Americans were absolutely stunned to find that her work was on target and they became converted to what she had found. Soon many scholars were pursuing this line of research, just since 2002, six years after Mukwonago thought it had come up with a plan and policy to make discrimination over the logo all but impossible. Now there are some 300 peer-reviewed studies that all relate to this original line of research and confirm it. Struggles For Justice interviewed Dr. Jesse Steinfeldt of the University of Indiana face-to-face and asked him the most obvious question: just what do pro-Indian logo scholars have on the 300 who disagree with them? Incredibly, Steinfeldt said flatly that “there are none. It is a settled matter in psychology.” Usually you can always count on what might be often referred to as “revisionists” or scholars who want to spoil the parade coming in and contradicting all this research. Hundreds who have honestly tried have only more strongly confirmed the original research.
The real stunner in this thing is that mere exposure to these symbols and names actually hurt and distort the perceptions of young people. It is the responsibility of the adults in your community to tell you these things. At this writing they are still waiting to do so. You need to know. You’re all smart and caring people. They ought to trust you more to rally round your classmates and stick together no matter where they were on this issue. Even your instructors are having a hard time with this thing. Many of them grew up in the community and love the old logo and name Indians. Naturally they do and are feeling the same things as you do. It’s hard. We can all safely acknowledge that to one another. We all can actually reach out and help those who do not like the logo and feel bad about it know they are not bad people but caring people who understood the need for change before the balance of us did. We all need to know more about this research that was the big central reason that the Department of Public Instruction said “NO” to keeping our logo and the Indian name. Our School District can help us a great deal with this and that can have a direct bearing on how well this transition to a new logo, and nickname and even the appearance for the first time of a real mascot goes.
The other component to the need for the decision is simple respect for a racial group or people who have had much of their identity brutally taken from them over hundreds of years of United States history. Can’t we feel how it would be if the majority experience of having strong ties to ethnic groups coming from Europe suddenly did not have those moorings to anchor our identities? It is simple respect and courtesy and politeness that tells a civilized person to stop doing something that another person is repeatedly and firmly but helpfully telling you to stop doing.
Finally, the bottom line: very solid scientific research tells us that while we keep the logo and Indian nickname we are hurting other people: including younger persons who are truly children. And we are disrespecting older young people not yet fully adults. Can the Mukwonago Area Schools and the Department of Public Instruction stand idly by and permit harm to students to occur? Of course they cannot do this. That is why the Department of Public Instruction ruled the way they did. It is one of their main tasks to prevent harm to children in the schools of Wisconsin which they have oversight responsibility for, along with helping all Wisconsin students learn better and helping school districts all over the state do that job they are set up to do. The Mukwonago Area Schools and its School Board and School officials have this very heavy responsiblity too. It is a difficult job. We all need to support the school officials who will have to help lead this very difficult and emotional transition.
But they must do one very important thing: they must emotionally let go of the logo fight and think of the children first. They yet have to demonstrate that they have gone beyond simply saying they will not fight the decision and they accept the research that shows children are harmed by Indian logos and nicknames. Let us all help them do that and help them lead us to even greater civic unity in the wake of this confrontation that has occurred.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke for Struggles For Justice