It has been interesting to watch the Raider debate unfold around Rutland. The push to change the mascot has been met with equal parts support and opposition. Those in favor of the change are firmly planted in the camp of seeking social justice, arguing the imagery can be perceived as insensitive and insulting to Indigenous peoples. Dissenters largely dismiss that argument, maintaining, instead, the logo, which was changed once to seem more politically correct, represents tradition and heritage; they argue the Raider is a symbol of strength and perseverance.
Call it a longing for the past, but the stubbornness playing out still stinks of privilege, even as attempts have been made to remedy the situation. We have said as much in this space and agree with the hundreds — if not thousands — of communities that have made changes in order to be in step with the hard truths of our American history. We have agreed from the get-go that the mascot needs to change. It is irresponsible to defend bad decisions under the guise of nostalgia or “glory days.” We support the student-led name change to the Ravens.
One of the repercussions of this debate has been a division locally that is now creeping into Town Meeting Day elections. There are individuals in the community who are calling out certain candidates as being pro- or anti-mascot — and somehow that moniker has become the difference between a badge of honor or a Scarlet Letter. The debate threatens candidacies, and — we hope this is not a real thing — could have an impact on the proposed school budget.
For certain, course corrections can be made at the ballot box, but motivations and intentions need to be considered. Digging in, being spiteful (read the commentaries and letters to the editors in our archive) and making threats (including claims of spitting on school commissioners and email harassment) seem over the top and myopic at best.
We would argue that during a pandemic, which is affecting students, faculty, staff — and basically everyone involved in educating our children — the focus ought to be on the quality of education; how we fill the learning gap created by the pandemic; and what this all means for the future of this generation of students. If we’re going to have hard conversations, maybe we should start there. Raid that debate, Rutland.
By contrast, last December, the town of Waterbury learned that the name of its primary school, which was named for a local waterway, had ties to a once-slave owner. The Harwood Union School Board, which rarely votes unanimously or acts quickly on matters, agreed recently — 13-0 — to the renaming of Thatcher Brook Primary School.
On Feb. 10, only two months after the issue was brought to them, the board acted.
The debate grew from a discussion started in the fall after research into the background of the school’s namesake revealed that the 18th-century man, Partridge Thatcher, owned a number of slaves.
Born in 1714 in Lebanon, Connecticut, Thatcher was one of the original landowners when Waterbury was chartered in 1763. He and several others from his then-home of New Milford, Connecticut, traveled here in 1782 to survey the territory, building a cabin along a brook they dubbed “Thatcher’s Branch,” known today as Thatcher Brook. He returned to Connecticut where historians believe he died in 1786. His history as a slaveholder was offered to the community last fall by Duxbury researcher Life LeGeros, a member of the newly formed Waterbury Area Anti-Racism Coalition. Together with Harwood Union High School students interested in social justice issues, and the Waterbury Public Library, LeGeros hosted an online event in mid-December to discuss whether this knowledge should prompt a name-change.
A majority of the more than 100 attendees at the forum supported renaming the school and the high school students conveyed that message to the school board in January. The board put out a call for public comment ahead of the Feb. 10 meeting and board members said they received many calls and emails. Nearly all of the public comments were for the change.
There is a minority position in the school district that seems to feel the reaction is an overreaction, but the overwhelming support has been for a name-change, and it does not seem to be manifesting in a backlash. The board met again Wednesday to set the stage and timeline for the process.
Harwood’s Superintendent Brigid Nease was quoted as saying: “I think there’s more of an urgency than you realize. If one student in your care and custody goes to Thatcher Brook and has a negative, concerning or traumatic experience, that’s one too many for something that could have been prevented and something that is now known that wasn’t known before.”
It’s about fixing past wrongs — not about standing up for a past that felt right at the time.