Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 4, 2013

EDITORIAL: School board drops the ball


— We’ll get to the point: This newspaper feels the term “Redskins,” used as the nickname for Goshen High School athletic teams, has derogatory racial overtones and could be offensive to Native Americans, among others. We also acknowledge that for decades GHS alumni have proudly identified themselves with that nickname, equating it not with Native Americans, but a pride in their school, coaches and classmates.

We can see both sides.

So, what should be done? Elsewhere, the “Redskins” nickname has been eliminated from college athletics and is on its way to informally being phased out in high school athletics. Port Townsend High School in Port Townsend, Wash., is the latest school to drop the controversial nickname after its school board voted unanimously in June to go in another direction after 87 years. Even Hall of Fame former players of the NFL’s Washington Redskins have come out in support of a name change for that professional franchise.

We give credit to Goshen Community School Corp. Superintendent Diane Woodworth for advancing this conversation back in May when she said, “If this concern re-emerges in our community, perhaps it would be time to organize a study committee again to re-examine all aspects of the current GHS mascot.” She’s right. That’s what should have happened. Too bad it didn’t.

We are disappointed that Goshen school trustees have kept their heads in the sand as this debate exploded nearly two months ago when a wooden statue depicting a Native American chief was removed from the gymnasium for graduation. While the statue was returned to its normal spot in time for graduation, largely because of an outcry on social media, it became clear that this matter has a deeper meaning. How did the school board handle it? It ignored it and let Woodworth take a beating by herself on Facebook, Twitter and voicemail.

Now is the time to talk about this and we are dismayed that the school board failed to take advantage of this opportunity in recent weeks, instead choosing to dismiss this matter as some little nickname not worthy of their attention. This school board should have stood up behind their superintendent and said, “We’re dealing with this now.”

Whether the nickname stays or goes, it demands a process of discussion that is not a Facebook comment or Twitter feed. Put grown-ups in a room and let them make their points. Consider that “Redskins” could be derogatory. Consider too that the term only represents school pride to many. Study what is happening elsewhere and why and determine a course of action.

Goshen School Board President Jane Troup, seemingly rolls her eyes at the “Redskins” controversy, practically declaring it not worthy of the board’s time and effort. While we understand each board member has other significant responsibilities, this matter should not be laughed off. The fact that trustees don’t want to talk about it speaks volumes.

Troup went on to suggest that the “Redskins” issue shouldn’t be part of the board’s focus for the upcoming school year. That focus, she said Thursday, will be concentrating on efforts to answer the following questions:

• Are the curriculum and programs up to date and relevant?

• Are the facilities desirable?

• Is Goshen Community Schools welcoming to all students?

• And how should Goshen Community Schools most effectively promote itself?

Those are a fine set questions for trustees to strive to answer. We see the “Redskins” conversation fitting into the last two questions. If “Redskins” is synonymous with “Goshen Community Schools,” the board should determine if that moniker is welcoming to “all” students. And, if Goshen Community Schools wants to most effectively promote itself, the board should ask if it wishes to continue with a potentially offensive nickname that a previous study committee already suggested be de-emphasized. If we have a de-emphasized mascot, isn’t it logical to ask, “What’s the point?”

What the board needs to understand is this issue is more about the future than it is the past. Times and sentiment are evolving. If we’re “Redskins” to the end, why not proclaim it? If it’s only a matter of time before we move on, why not prepare for it? The biggest mistake would be to flat out ignore it and end up on the wrong side of it.

The school board should facilitate a community discussion and form a transparent committee that leads further evaluation of Goshen High School’s continued use of the “Redskins” nickname. We do believe it is worthy of their time and efforts.