The Rutland City School Board has a complicated decision in choosing whether or not to keep the name and symbols associated with the “Raiders.” On one hand, generations of kids have come of age under the name, learning crucial life lessons of teamwork and persistence, as well as building friendships and character. These experiences are part of what make our community known for our grit and our willingness to help each other through the trenches. When Raider Nation thinks of the Raider name and images, visions of camaraderie and shared conquest are experienced.
On the other hand, decades of research have shown that mascots and symbols like those of our Red Raiders not only cause psychological harm to kids of Native American descent, but also create an environment that perpetuates racist views and stereotypes. Numerous community members have shared their stories of how they have experienced the negative effects, and our community isn’t even the only one having this discussion right now – at least a half-dozen other Red Raider schools are trying to navigate this issue with individuals in those communities sharing similar experiences.
What makes this a complicated decision is that many, if not most, Rutlanders very easily identify with the first perspective. There is deep pride in the Raider name and imagery because of shared experiences. Most do not associate it with racist attitudes or beliefs. For those who hold it dear, being a Raider has always meant more than just the label – it defined how to approach life. Indeed, with the proposed change, many Rutlanders are feeling their identity is being taken away from them for a cause they can’t see or identify with.
In making their decision, the school board, as a democratically elected board, must account for this perception, as well. It is easy to use science and the experience of people being marginalized to make the decision to change the Raider name and images. After all, as Rutlanders, we care about each other and wouldn’t purposely advocate for causing another harm. It is much harder to help Raider Nation understand that their experiences and their connection with each other is not diminished or diluted by removing the name or symbol they played under. It is much harder to demonstrate how changing the Raider name and imagery is an act of courage and pride, and a stand against racism, all in service to the community for which they proudly competed.
“Raider Nation” is not here yet.
A decision to change the name thus also needs to include ways to build community, such as 1) plans for developing a school-wide curriculum so our kids can learn about this issue from the differing perspectives and can have informed discussions among each other, 2) plans for sharing out the learning from that curriculum so we can all have informed discussion with each other, particularly if we hold different views, and most especially, 3) plans for creating an inclusive community process to identify a new name and mascot that specifically invites people to the table and frames the process as a way to bring forward the deep Raider pride and transform it into the new name and symbol.
Rutland has the chance to be a national leader once again. We are one of many American communities who are having the mascot discussion. We can become known for how hard we fight each other, or, as we have shown time and time again, like with “Vermont Strong” and “Help Vermont LIGHT UP the World,” we can set the tone for how we come together when we are confronted with challenges, and how we can stand together, Rutland Proud.
Christopher Ettori is a member of Rutland City Board of Aldermen.