EAST MARLBOROUGH — In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, a number of companies will be changing names of their products to distance themselves from logos and brand names with racist origins. These include Uncle Ben's rice, Aunt Jemima pancake syrup, Mrs. Butterworth pancake syrup, Cream of Wheat, Land O'Lakes butter, Red Skins, Chicos sweets and Eskimo Pie ice cream.
If were up to some alumni of Unionville High School, the Indian mascot, logo and name would be among them.
An online petition created by nearly a dozen recent graduates of Unionville High School, proposed that that school officials "change the Unionville High School mascot and issue a public apology for the harm the representation has caused indigenous people," among other things.
The petition claims Unionville school officials have failed to condemn anti-blackness in its schools. It said the district's lack of support for Black Lives matter is "unacceptable, but unsurprising given its history of racism, indigenous erasure, and refusal to take concrete action against discrimination."
Nearly 1,400 students attend Unionville High School. Minority enrollment is 16 percent of the student body, which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 34 percent. About 84 percent of students are white, 10 percent Asian, 4 percent Hispanic and 0.4 percent African American. It is in the top 1 percent of all schools in Pennsylvania for overall test scores.
The petition also wants the administration to actively recruit and hire administrators, teachers and faculty from diverse backgrounds, specifically black, indigenous and people of color, provide comprehensive and continued diversity and privilege training to all faculty and staff, create a specific protocol for reporting racist and discriminatory comments and actions from both students and faculty and ensure that students understand the protocol.
It also calls for changes to academic curricula to include black and other non-white narratives, particularly in health, history and English classes, and include anti-racist literature by authors of color as required readings. The students also seek to have Black History Month programming expanded to include the Black Power movement and form black-led anti-racism educational programs, starting from the elementary school level.
John Sanville, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District superintendent, said the district has been working on bringing racial and other sensitive issues to the forefront -- through curriculum, experiential learning and in programs - for quite some time.
"In fact, since 2008 the school calendar has added holidays in response to members of our community," Sanville said. "UCF is familiar with and respectful of the varied traditions and beliefs within our boundaries."
Sanville said that in the past nine years, the Unionville mascot has been a topic of discussion internally and in the community.
"We have had conversations with tribal elders of the Lenni Lenape Tribe - who reside in Oklahoma," Sanville said. "These talks resulted in UCF eliminating the offensive stereotypical iconography and the tomahawk chop cheer. The UHS logo was changed to a U with a single feather. Symbols that carry negative connotations about a particular group are unwelcome in UCF "
On a Facebook Page called Save the Indian, many weighed in on whether the Indian mascot should stay or go.
"As a 1988 graduate, I am proud to call myself a Unionville Indian alumni and not for the mascot but for the school district," said Beth Crosson. "There was never any racial issues while I attended school. This whole BLM has been escalated and ones only believing what they want instead of having facts. Social media is to blame."
Helen Martin, a graduate of Unionville High School and a teacher there for 32 years, said the Indian mascot is part of the school's long history and is opposed to removing it.
"The Indian was chosen to honor the people who lived in this area before the white man came," she said. "When William Penn came to the commonwealth we call Pennsylvania, he spoke peaceably with the local native people. Don’t complain and destroy the school’s mascot because you do not know its history. Work to include the work of local Christians including Quakers to fight against slavery and help slaves escape."
Sanville promised an open dialogue on the issue which could lead to change.
"Our support of students and alumni interested in bringing forward a sensitive topic for discussion continues in 2020," he said. "We welcome the opportunity to participate in dialogues, view and share presentations, and facilitate community forums. In the weeks ahead we will coordinate calendars with all those interested in taking part. We are listening, thinking, reading, and talking. We are using this as a starting point for asking what we can do better, what we can change, and how to implement new practices. We are educators and know that there is always more to learn."
The petition, accessible at https://www.change.org/p/unionville-high-school-administration-change-unionville-high-school-s-mascot-ea8fa02d-691f-42d5-bf79-0a4efa2b94a2 , was signed by Uma Balaji, Jessica Liu, Leah Tedesco, Sophia Qureshi, Suchi Singh Jain, Sid Iyer, Jason Zhang, Mahalet Tegenu, Katherine Hart, Aisha Lunkins, and Dara Jin. They said they hope the petition will spark dialogues that will lead to the "structural changes that the district must adopt in order to actively cultivate an environment that is nurturing to all identities."