EAST MARLBOROUGH—This summer’s racial reckoning sparked demonstrations, discussions, and change across the United States, but smaller changes are occurring in communities like Unionville in Chester County and Radnor, in Delaware County.

On August 24, the school board voted unanimously to retire the Indian as the mascot at UHS.

For years, community members were at odds about the controversial mascot, with some calling it a proud tribute and others calling it an insensitive caricature. Following the killing of George Floyd, a group of UHS alumni reignited the mascot debate by forming an anti-racism group called Unionville Must Change.

UMC outlined a list of nine demands in a letter to the administration, including calling for the retirement of the Indian mascot, which they call “irrefutably racist” in their online petition. Other demands were a more inclusive curriculum and greater diversity among faculty.

Jessica Liu, a 2017 Unionville graduate and founding member of UMC, said that she and other alumni saw a need for anti-racist change at Unionville and were inspired by the actions of students and alums at other schools.

Pat Crater, the Supervisor of Athletics at UHS, was selected to lead this discussion and ultimately make a recommendation about the mascot to the school board. After extensive community conversations this summer, he said, “the weight of the evidence told us that it was wise to retire [the mascot].”

For Crater, the turning point came from a “life-changing” conversation with the chief of the Lenape tribe in Delaware. “The chief explicitly told us that indigenous people are not mascots,” he said.

Going forward, Crater hopes to honor the Lenape in “respectful and appropriate” ways at Unionville. The district plans to collaborate with the tribe, educate students about local Native American history, and create native gardens at schools across the district. “With this retirement comes new commitments,” he said.

The process of changing the mascot goes beyond just the school board’s vote. The new mascot will be chosen with input from students, staff, administrators, alumni, and community members. The emphasis, though, will be on the opinions of current students, according to Crater.

A committee of students, administrators, and staff called “New Year, New U” has been formed to reach a decision about the new mascot. The committee also includes Dennis Coker, the Principal Chief of the Delaware Lenape. The final decision will be announced this winter.

Aarohi Nadkarni, a senior at UHS and a member of the committee, said she is “ecstatic that this is happening.” She sees the decision as a win for inclusivity at UHS. She knows there are detractors, but, she said, “If people are mad, I’m okay with it because it had to be done.”

Others, though, are completely against the change. Billy Garrett, a Unionville resident and alum, worries that removing the mascot will erase a piece of local history and questions the merits of changing a long-standing tradition. To him, the issue boils down to the question: “Why change?”

Tom Pancoast, a local business owner and the father of eight current or former UHS students, is upset by this change as well. He sees it as a part of a larger trend towards progressive politics at Unionville and a manifestation of “cancel culture.”

Unionville is not the only local high school grappling with a mascot change. Shortly after Unionville’s decision, Radnor High School voted to retire its mascot—the Raider—as well.

Much like at Unionville, this issue incited debate and controversy within the community. At the center of that controversy was the activist group Radnor for Reform. This student-led group pushed for the retirement of the mascot, which they denounced as “racist” in an open letter.

Radnor for Reform is led by students Anne Griffin, Audrey Margolies, Ellie Davis, and Reese Hillman. Margolies, a senior at Radnor, sees the mascot issue as a question of empathy. “You have to be aware not just of the intention of the imagery…but really the impact of it,” she said.

Though Radnor for Reform began campaigning for the mascot change independently, Unionville served as an example for how this change could be realized. Margolies called the news of Unionville’s mascot change “inspiring” for Radnor students.

Radnor for Reform hopes to extend their momentum beyond just their high school. Ridley High School is still represented by the Green Raider, and Radnor students are collaborating with Ridley students attempting to change their mascot.

Despite these changes, Native American mascots are still common throughout the area. Three Chester County high schools—Coatesville, Octorara, and Henderson—still use Native American mascot

According to Superintendent Michele Orner, Octorara has no plans to retire its mascot, the Brave. She considers the mascot a “respectful” tribute to the history of the district. Orner said there has been no push from the community to change the mascot.

Across the nation, high schools are reconsidering their Native American mascots. School officials at Unionville and Radnor took the step to be on the forefront of this change.

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