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Barnstable Red Raiders No More? Tonight It Could Be Final

CAI Morning Edition host Kathryn Eident spoke with reporter Jennette Barnes about tonight's expected vote in Barnstable about whether to move forward with a new mascot and new name for the community's athletic teams.


Eident: Barnstable school officials are set to decide whether to keep the controversial “Red Raiders” school mascot name this week. The School Committee voted to eliminate the image of a Native American as the mascot last summer, but more recently, a subcommittee was tasked to review whether the district would keep the name itself. That’s because one School Committee member said he voted last summer only to remove the image — not the name. A vote is set for tonight. Joining us to talk about this is CAI reporter Jennette Barnes. Good morning, Jennette.


Barnes: Good morning, Kathryn.


Eident: Jennette, I think most people thought that when the Barnstable School Committee voted last summer to retire the mascot, it meant both the image and the name. But that wasn't necessarily the case.

Barnes: Well, I think most people did think that was the case. And in fact, the Community Engagement Subcommittee in Barnstable put out a survey in November asking the community a little bit about a new mascot — asking whether the school's colors should stay the same, and looking for mascot suggestions. But then at a School Committee meeting this month, in January, School Committee member Joe Nystrom said he believed he was only voting to retire the Native American image, not the name “Red Raiders.” So, you know, he raised that this month, and it's now back at the subcommittee. 

Eident: Tell us more about this subcommittee — who is on the group, and they don't just meet to talk about this one issue, right? They have other items on their agenda?

Barnes: Right. Well, “subcommittee,” the term “subcommittee,” is a little bit of a misnomer for this group, because it's a big group. It has about 24 people and only two School Committee members. But the idea is to kind of bring in community voices on a variety of school issues. So it includes town residents, school staff and administrators, and so forth. I spoke with Barbara Dunn, who's a member of the School Committee and also chairs the subcommittee. She said the debate about this mascot issue in a lot of ways was similar to last summer, in the sense that they heard from alumni who don't want to give up the mascot and believe that the name “Red Raiders” shows pride in Native American history in the area. But she said that this time around, when they kind of reconsidered whether to take the name separately from the image, they heard from more people who feel very strongly that they shouldn't go back and reconsider that, that the name is not honoring Native Americans and that it's really not possible at this point to make the term “Red Raiders” means something else.

Eident: Right. And last summer, when they originally discussed this issue, there was a petition with, I want to say, a thousand or more signatures on it. So there was a groundswell of people last summer who did not want to keep this name and this image. We have a little tape from when you talked to Barbara Dunn talking about the idea of separating the name from the image with the Barnstable mascot. Let's take a listen to that.

Dunn: It’s been “Red Raider” for so long — to just remove the imagery and say, “Well, we're now no longer associating [it] with Native Americans. We're going to come up with a new logo or just keep the “B” — it's so ingrained that it's very difficult to say that that will be disassociated. 

Eident: So, Jennette, this advisory group or subcommittee — however you want to call it — is making a recommendation to the School Committee. Do you have an idea of what that recommendation is going to be?

Barnes: Yes. So they took a vote, and some of those members [of] that big group are non-voting, but 14 people were voting that day. And it was 13 to 1 to recommend that the School Committee not reopen this discussion about keeping just the “Red Raiders” name without the logo. So the subcommittee, this advisory subcommittee, has endorsed the idea of moving on, with both a new image for the Barnstable mascot and a new name — completely new.

Eident: And now this goes before the Barnstable School Committee this week.

Barnes: Right. So Barbara Dunn is on the agenda for that meeting to share some of the perspectives from the subcommittee and the results of that vote. And she says she believes the School Committee will make a binding decision on Wednesday about whether to reconsider keeping the name “Red Raiders” or not. Remember, most people thought this was already voted this summer, as we said, so the committee could just go ahead and reaffirm that vote in relatively short order, or they could reopen a longer discussion. But if they decide to move forward with picking a completely new mascot, that triggers a big step because the subcommittee has already worked on developing options for a new mascot. And Dunn says the color red is staying, but they have three finalists for the mascot. And they are planning to take a survey of students at the intermediate school and the high school to see what they think about the mascot options. Dunn said the subcommittee really wants the students’ voice to be the deciding factor on what the new mascot would be. 

Eident: You know, we have reported on a school district wrestling with whether or not the mascot is offensive in other places, including in Dartmouth, where they're having similar discussions. And Dunn recently attended a meeting at the Mass Association of School Committees for schools that are having this similar debate and discussion, right? What did she have to say about that?

Barnes: Well, she said she got the sense that other communities are hearing the same kinds of concerns from the public, like this dynamic where some alumni just feel passionate about the history of the school and its mascot. And people on that meeting for school committee members talked about how to balance remembering school history with moving forward. Let's play a little bit of what she had to say about that.

Dunn: Someone said that we're not erasing history, but we can't reinforce these barriers. And how do you balance that? And I thought that was really perfectly said. History is important. And as we move forward with this, if we do, in fact, change Red Raider, we have to think about the banners and the trophies, and we don't want to erase any of that. So how do you do that? That's a challenge.

Barnes: So Dunn said she views changing the mascot as part of living up to the anti-racism resolution that the School Committee adopted earlier this year.

Eident: And so you mentioned they have three — Barnstable has three mascot options. They want student input if, indeed, they go forward with that option — new name, new image. What would be the timeline for when we'd actually see one on school uniforms?

Barnes: Well, the timeline really is kind of still to be announced. But once they choose one, if they do decide to choose a new mascot, then there's a budget element, of course, to getting the name and the logo changed on various items. Dunn said it will be a slow transition. She also said this project is taking a lot of energy at a time when the schools are dealing with remote learning. So for that reason, also, they're kind of taking it one step at a time.

Eident: And the Barnstable School Committee will be taking up the issue of whether or not to keep the name associated with its mascot, the Red Raiders, at its meeting tonight. Jennette Barnes, CAI reporter, thanks a lot.

Barnes: Thanks, Kathryn.

Kathryn Eident is an award-winning journalist and hosts WCAI's Morning Edition. She began producing stories for WCAI in 2008 as a Boston University graduate student reporting from the Statehouse. Since then, Kathryn’s work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times, Studio 360, Scientific American, and Cape and Plymouth Business Magazine.
Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.