July 22, 2014

Mascots create hostile learning environment

Missing the Point

The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth

By Erik Stegman and Victoria Phillips
Much of the recent debate has centered on issues such as economics. Many fans and media commentators have debated the cost of changing the name for the team and the league. Others have focused on the “legacy” and memories that fans will lose with a new name. And perhaps the most referenced issue is the team’s supposed lack of racist or derogatory intent. But too much of the debate misses the point. It is not just about a name, a logo, a business, or a matter of intent. Racist and derogatory team names have real and harmful effects on AI/AN people every day, particularly young people.

AI/AN students across the country attend K-12 and postsecondary schools that still maintain racist and derogatory mascots. Research shows that these team names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for AI/AN students. It also reveals that the presence of AI/AN mascots directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for AI/AN adolescents and young adults. And just as importantly, studies show that these mascots undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous and AI/AN people. In other words, these stereotypical representations are too often understood as factual representations and thus “contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices.”

These are some of the many compelling reasons why major professional organizations have already weighed in. For example, the American Psychological Association called for the “immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams, and organizations” nearly a decade ago. Similarly, the American Counseling Association passed a resolution in 2011 calling on their members to advocate for the elimination of these stereotypes where they are employed, and the American Sociological Association called for the elimination of AI/AN names, mascots, and logos in 2007.

The need to eliminate these derogatory representations and stereotypes is urgent and long past due. Racist team names and mascots provide a misrepresentation of AI/AN people that masks the very real and continuing hardships that these communities endure today. For example, AI/AN communities struggle with poverty at nearly double the national rate, have some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, and suffer from extreme health disparities. Perhaps most disturbing, suicide is the second leading cause of death for AI/AN youth ages 15 to 24—a rate that is 2.5 times higher than the national average.
How Washington's Football Team Creates A Hostile Environment For Native American Students

By Amanda TerkelMuch of the debate over whether to keep the Washington football team's name has centered around whether it's actually offensive to Native Americans. Owner Dan Snyder has searched high and low to find American Indians who aren't put off by the term "Redskins" as justification for keeping it.

But according to Erik Stegman, an author of a new report on Native mascots and team names, that discussion misses the point.

"This entire debate is being spun in the wrong direction, and it doesn't really matter whether or not one Native person you talk to supports or doesn't," Stegman said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "When you have kids in schools who are getting harassed, who are feeling a lack of self-worth because they themselves have become a mascot for someone else, I think that's really what the point is all about. We need to stop having this debate over which Native people are offended because it's a ridiculous debate."
And:Native students face more challenges starting out than non-Native individuals. For Native young adults ages 15 to 34, for example, the suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the national average. These communities also have some of the country's highest rates of poverty and poor health and lowest educational outcomes.

"So they're starting from a really challenging place," said Stegman. "And when they have to go to school every day and see their culture and their communities boiled down to a logo or a mascot, and when ... those are actually used against them in negative ways, it's pretty hard to understand how that contributes to their ability to learn successfully."
One student verifies what the research says: that mascots cause harm.

If You Want To Understand Why Mascots Like ‘Redskins’ Are A Problem, Listen To This 15-Year-Old Native American

By Travis Waldron“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always gone to my high school football games, and once I got into high school, it made it that much more fun being on the field,” Brown said Tuesday. “But there has always been one game I dreaded going to. One of our school’s biggest rivals is the Calaveras Redskins. Calaveras has always had an obscene amount of school pride, but little do they know how damaging their routines are, not only to the Natives in attendance, but most likely to the Native Americans who attend their own school.”

Brown, a 15-year-old Native American student from California, told the story of playing against Calaveras High School in a powerful speech about the effects of Native American mascots and imagery in sports during an event on the subject at the Center for American Progress (full disclosure: I participated in a panel discussion at the event; the Center for American Progress is the parent company of this site).

Calaveras games feature stereotypical behavior, Brown said: war paint, drums, buckskin outfits on cheerleaders, and faux-Native chanting. Calaveras’ opponents can be even worse, Brown said, using the “Redskins” nickname to justify all sorts of behavior that makes Native American students and players like him more than uncomfortable.

“All of these actions, along with many more, hurt my heart. With so many around me, I feel ganged up on,” he continued. “At the same time, all of these screaming fans don’t know how offensive they are. Or that they are even in the presence of a Native. Most of the time, they don’t even know that Natives still exist.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence.

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