Raiders

A Rutland Raiders sign sits across the street from an I Love Rutland, VT sign on Howard Avenue in Rutland City on Wednesday morning. The School Board voted 6-5 Tuesday evening to reinstate the Raiders as the Rutland nickname during a long, contentious meeting.

Rutland High School is once again home of the Raiders.

Rutland City School Commissioners voted 6-5 to reinstate the former name Tuesday night, following a prolonged debate that came at the end of a four-and-a-half-hour meeting.

The mascot dominated the School Board meeting despite not being officially on the agenda.

At the top of Tuesday’s regular meeting, Commissioner Tricia O’Connor made a motion to add an action item to the agenda to reinstate the “Raiders” as the district nickname.

The board previously retired the Raider name and arrowhead logo in late 2020, deeming it offensive and hurtful to Indigenous people and, subsequently, voted to adopt “Ravens” as the new team name and mascot in February 2021.

Since last spring, a cohort of pro-Raider commissioners has pushed to rescind the decision. Those efforts had been unsuccessful because of board member absences and procedural confusion.

On Tuesday, those commissioners finally got their chance.

Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the meeting was held in a hybrid format with some commissioners attending in person and others participating via Zoom.

O’Connor’s initial motion sparked a round of debate and competing interpretations of Robert’s Rules of Order — the manual of parliamentary procedure used by organizations to govern meetings — about whether or not such an item could be added to the agenda without first being warned.

Commissioner Dena Goldberg eventually weighed in to remind the board that the meeting’s agenda included several important items that required action, such as approving the district budget ahead of Town Meeting Day and an executive session related to contract negotiations. She asserted they could not afford to have another meeting thrown into disarray over the mascot as had happened last month.

Goldberg, who supported the change to Ravens, also wondered what the end game was with continuing to put the mascot issue back on the agenda, asking whether this was going to be a perennial issue that future boards will have to contend with.

“Because as much as I feel strongly about the way it should go, I also feel strongly that we need to continue our operation,” she said. “There’s no way that we can go through a derailed meeting, like we had last month, with all of the items we have on the list right now.”

She also contended that the board should be consistent in its adherence to Robert’s Rules, stating, “We can’t just pick and choose whenever we want Robert Rules to be the meaningful piece of the puzzle.”

December’s regular board meeting ended prematurely when commissioners refused to approve the agenda following a contentious procedural debate involving the mascot.

Before that meeting ended, Board Chair Hurley Cavacas stated that the mascot would be on the agenda for the next meeting. However, when the agenda was released late last week, the item was absent.

He also said, at the time, that a parliamentarian would be present at the January meeting to ensure the board followed procedure properly.

Cavacas agreed with Goldberg that Tuesday’s meeting needed to progress and stated that he would allow the board to vote to put the item at the bottom of agenda under “Old and New Business,” at which point the board could continue its discussion.

Commissioners successfully voted 6-5 to add the item to the agenda, with Cavacas casting the tie-breaking vote.

After completing the agenda’s other business, the board returned to the mascot item at around 10 p.m.

O’Connor stated a motion to “discontinue the use of the Raven moniker and adopt the Raiders moniker, effective immediately.”

A lengthy discussion followed during which commissioners stated various arguments for and against returning to the Raiders.

Commissioner Kevin Kiefaber reminded the board that the Raider name “has a long history of being associated with negative stereotypes of Native American people.”

He added that reverting to the Raiders would undermine the community efforts to attract younger people to the area.

“In order for us to survive economically, we need to attract people to Vermont and, specifically, to Rutland. If we make this change and become the community that went back to a racist mascot, that’s a very unwelcoming message to not only minority folks but progressive thinkers everywhere, which is the kind of folks that we want to have moving to our community,” he said.

Commissioner Alison Notte made a point of order, arguing that O’Connor’s motion was improper because it conflicted with a previously adopted motion of the board.

Notte’s comment drew a sharp rebuke from Commissioner Stephanie Stoodley, who said, “Anything you can do, Alison, to disrupt this whole process, you will do it.”

Cavacas overruled Notte’s point over order. A subsequent attempt by Notte to contest Cavacas’ ruling failed following a muddled discussion of how to contest rulings under Robert’s Rules.

Stoodley, who interrupted other commissioners multiple times to argue her point, spoke at length about the need for the board and the community to come together to find a compromise.

She added that RHS students had not been sufficiently included in the decision to return the Raiders and adopt the Ravens, asserting that a majority of students still preferred Raiders.

“Go to a Rutland football game on a Friday night. Those student body are not saying ‘Ravens.’ They are saying Raiders,’” she said.

Stoodley further argued that the district has not done enough to educate students about the history of Indigenous peoples.

“Let’s educate our students. Let’s have conversations,” she said.

Commissioner Charlene Seward blamed the “semantics of Robert’s Rules” for delaying a vote on the issue, which she said a majority of the board wanted.

“We’re not going home at night and reading parliamentarian law,” she said.

She argued that commissioners who were obstructing the process were not being transparent, inclusive or equitable.

Goldberg reminded commissioners about the context in which the Raider was originally adopted, which was associated with Native American imagery.

“Looking at the context that has been built over the years, we have been — not intentionally — but we have been not taking into account the some minority voices,” she said.

She continued, “So I really would like to ask the board that as we move forward with all of our educational curriculum — inclusively, equity-type of efforts — I really would like us to recognize, as part of it, is identifying that sometimes we need to make make changes that do not affect us directly, that do not have impact to our lives directly, however, have impact to other people’s situation and experience in our community — those that they cannot change.”

Goldberg also took issue with the argument that Raiders should remain because it’s allegedly what the majority of people want.

“Majority voting does not necessarily address minority issues,” she said.

Isabella LaFemina, the senior class student representative to the board, challenged the assertion that the majority of RHS students were in favor of Raiders, calling it a “biased view.”

Earlier in the meeting, Stoodley has chided LaFemina for speaking in support of the Ravens name, arguing that she was not representing her fellow students.

“I know quite a lot of people in quite a lot of different circles, that would say that — first of all, they just want it to be over — and second of all, they understand where we are coming from with the point that it is, at this point, racist and dividing us,” said LaFemina.

Notte made a comment, stating that the Raider name doesn’t “support cultural diversity or project a positive welcoming environment.”

“We adopted an inclusive mascot moniker of the Ravens. No one has been harmed. No one’s achievements have been taken away. And no new information has come before the board to warrant revisiting the binding result,” she said.

O’Connor argued that people choose whether or not to be offended by something.

“Anybody can be offended by anything. It’s how you choose to live your life. If you’re looking to be offended, I can guarantee, something’s going to offend you,” she said.

She added, “To have that perception that, because you’re offended, there has to be something wrong, is not necessarily OK.”

Goldberg took issue with O’Connor’s remarks, declaring, “I do not choose to get offended.”

“If we do not believe people that they’re having situations that are not favorable because of who they are by the basic representation of them, we will never be able to move forward with any of our equity, inclusion and curriculum and education and all the wonderful words that have been voiced here today,” she said.

Goldberg continued, “There have been experiences in this community for people of different types of backgrounds that have been harmful. So this is not a choice. It will never be a choice. We can choose not to accept it, we can choose to ignore it, we can choose to dismiss it. However, those experiences will continue to occur, whether you’re part of it or not, it will continue to occur. Our part, as a board, is to recognize the fullness and the wholeness of our community and own it as a wholeness, and not just pick and choose what we want and call it education and curriculum because it fits our needs and represents our part of it.”

After more than an hour of discussion, Cavacas called the question.

Cavacas, O’Connor, Stoodley, Seward, Brittany Cavacas and Erin Shimp voted in favor of reinstating Raiders; while Goldberg, Notte, Keifaber, Ann Dages and Cathy Solsaa voted against it.

While the Rutland community has been bitterly divided over the mascot issue, representatives of local Indigenous communities have been consistent in their opposition to the Raider name and arrowhead logo.

In response to the ongoing debate in Rutland, Carol McGranaghan, chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs supplied the following statement issued by the commission in March of last year:

“The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs recognizes the historical and present intolerance, bias, and racism caused by ‘Indian’ mascots, logos, and symbols. These images, words, symbols and the behavior that accompanies them perpetuate negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, resulting in significant psychological, social and cultural consequences, especially for Indigenous youth.”

This article was updated after being posted early Wednesday morning.

jim.sabataso

@rutlandherald.com

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(5) comments

jamieotr

It is very sad that that a portion of the school board has proved themselves to be so very insular.

Anonymous Ant Eater

I for one identify myself as a non-homosapian conforming rattle snake (Western diamondback rattlesnake aka Crotalus atrox to be exact)... and me and my species find the term "Rattlers" extremely derogatory. We like the term "Raiders" better because it ain't even necessary a indian, it could be one of them Pirate Raiders or a Person who raids the fridge at night looking for a snack.

Anonymous Ant Eater

Update* I transitioned... I now identify as a non-Hexadecimal South African Corvus albicollis – white-necked raven. And me and my flock find the term "Ravens" unacceptable!!!

whats new

The Minority Hates to Lose Control.

prego

Dear "Greta":

Touche!!

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