Citing discomfort with perceived racial stereotyping, Sequoia High School students are leading a charge for their sports teams to no longer use the Cherokee name and instead adopt the school’s raven mascot.
Students Miles Webb, Leigh Alley and Andrew Mancini are among those set to present to the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees their case for changing the sports team name during a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 12.
At the core of their argument is a disbelief that using the Cherokee name honors the tribe — as is claimed by alumni who favor its preservation — but Mancini also characterized the issue as a matter of common sense.
“If this was any other type of minority or marginalized group, we would have already done something about it,” said Mancini, a sophomore at the school.
Alley meanwhile deferred to letters sent by the tribe previously asking the school to give up the name as sound reasoning for considering the transition.
“We are taking the side of the Cherokee who say they are not being honored, so they are not honored,” said Alley, a junior at the school.
The discussion at the upcoming meeting continues a long line of debate spanning back almost two decades to when the tribe sent the high school a letter requesting the name change.
In recognition of those concerns, school officials previously agreed to adopt the raven mascot for the school while preserving the Cherokee name for the sports teams.
The mixed messaging piqued the interest of Webb, a student athlete who found the school’s dual mascot initially confusing and ultimately insulting after digging deeper into the issue.
“I did the research and realized how wrong I felt this was. I didn’t realize how much outcry there has been to make changes like this,” said Webb, a junior at the school.
He also noted the alignment with the student proposal to national efforts calling for the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians to change their names. Locally, Stanford University also previously transitioned their mascot from the Indians to Cardinal and Jefferson High School in Daly City moved from the Indians to the Grizzlies.
Webb and his colleagues formed a coalition earlier this year dedicated to gathering support for the name change, and collected nearly 600 petition signatures from their fellow students. They also received letters of support from teaching departments and a favorable vote from the football team.
Students created a video addressing the issue as well, and polled the opinions of more than 1,200 viewers — a majority of whom either agreed or strongly agreed the name should be retired.
Students also held conversations with administrators and members of the alumni association, who have been the most staunch in their advocacy to maintain tradition through the team name.
Recalling the conversation, Alley said she believes the student group and alumni members are at an essential disagreement over whether the name meets its stated goal of observing and admiring the tribe.
“They are set in the idea that they are honoring and we are set in the idea that they are not,” said Alley.
But she recognized the perspective of former students who think fondly of the school’s mascot during their time at Sequoia.
“I can understand wanting that connection to the team and mascot, because I want that with the Ravens,” she said.
Furthermore, Webb suggested he was uncomfortable with continually deferring to tradition if there is a viable reason to consider righting a wrong.
“I don’t think the future is with the idea of the school being the Cherokees,” he said.
For his part, board President Chris Thomsen said he was heartened to see students take to the board a well-argued and deeply-researched case.
“It seems extraordinarily thoughtful to me. In general, the board welcomes input from students, and this one looks especially relevant and interesting,” he said.
Thomsen noted no action is slated to be taken at the upcoming meeting, but the issue aligns well with an upcoming board policy decision relating to district mascots and school names.
“This seems like a very appropriate thing for us to address,” said Thomsen, who also recognized recent developments in state law requiring educators to examine school names.
Noting he is keeping an open mind going into the meeting, Thomsen acknowledged the tribe’s discomfort with the school’s continued use of the name as an perspective important to consider.
“When you hear from that community, they do not consider it an honor,” he said.
With that in mind, Mancini suggested it is time for the school to move on.
“Maybe this is long overdue,” he said.
The Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees meets 6 p.m. in the district office, 480 James Ave., Redwood City.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105