Alison Notte: Threats over Rutland mascot change must stop

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Alison Notte, who is the chair of the Rutland City school board.

As chair of the Rutland City Public Schools Board of Commissioners, my safety and family’s well-being has been threatened due to my role in facilitating discussion around changing the racist Raider mascot. It is hard to ignore the pattern (in Vermont and nationally) of threats against elected officials and/or people speaking up for social justice perpetuated by individuals and groups that feel threatened at the potential loss of their white privilege. 

The job of the school board is to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for all students to learn and grow. The district cannot fully support Black, indigenous, and people of color communities if the mascot is one that appropriates and disrespects a culture.

The board conducted all mascot discussion in open session with opportunities for input from community members and students. There are many false claims on social media including some from board members that do not support the change. Stories are full of contradictions. People complained we talked too much about the issue in one breath and not enough in another. People post that I should not be threatened while perpetuating misinformation and untruths regarding the discussions and process. In addition to the regular board meetings, we held a two-hour forum dedicated to public comment. Everyone that signed up to speak on the matter was given the same opportunity. The forum ended closer to 90 minutes as there were no more registered speakers. Much like a person making threats while standing behind a bogus text number and encrypted international email, many people did not take part in the public process, instead making up their own narrative on social media. Many board members heard from individuals outside meeting time as well. To the board members that say they need more public input, I would ask them to avail themselves to the public and to be willing to stand up for a more just school system. 

Some people claim Native Americans are, or should be, proud of the use. However the Abenaki Council and the National Congress of American Indians spoke against the use of the Raider name and arrowhead imagery. The Vermont Principals Association issued a statement recommending removal of racist, cultural mascots. Initiatives are happening all over the country to right past wrongs.

The thought that there should be a majority vote to determine whether or not the use is offensive to Native people is counterintuitive. A marginalized population that was pushed off their land, systematically impoverished and victims of a eugenics program, clearly are not going to have a majority to vote. 

I understand that some community members cling to the Raider name as their identity from past high school days. Changing the name does not take away anyone’s accomplishments. There is a clear tie between offensive, stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans and Rutland’s use of the Raider name and imagery. As people have evolved, we have come to realize the damaging effects from the use of Native American mascots. We cannot change the past but we can learn from it and move forward. As we learn more, we do better. Change can be very uncomfortable. Adults have the duty to set good examples for our children and our students. 

While the threats are very unsettling, I am fortunate enough to have a supportive family and a loving husband. William is highly committed to the community and has been a civic leader serving the city for over 13 years. William is a fifth generation Rutland native. I am a native Vermonter and was raised in Rutland. We both graduated from Rutland High School. I also represented the school through varsity sports. We have ties to the community much larger than this one issue. We are raising the next generation of our family in Rutland. William’s commitment to Rutland City is why I landed back in the city. It is his passion for civic duty and my thoughts that our schools could better serve our students that inspired me to run for the school board seven years ago. I should not be threatened while serving my elected duty. 

Threats regarding the mascot discussion show how prevalent racism is and how emboldened white supremacists are. Rutland can do better. Please let passion and commitment be the identity of Rutland not a racist mascot. The passion and commitment many community members share is what can build Rutland up and tear down the walls of racism.

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