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photograph courtesy Donna Boyle
Come on everybody... do it... (photograph courtesy Donna Boyle)

One Woman's Fight Against a Pennsylvania High School's Mascot

Vincent Schilling
12/21/12

Donna Boyle has lived in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania for the past thirty years and has always been offended by her town’s high school mascot, the Redskins. Several years ago, Boyle’s first son had attended the high school, which was tough to manage. But when her youngest son started high school just this year, Boyle decided she's had enough, and began a lone crusade to encourage the school to change the name.

In the short months since starting her campaign against the name, Boyle has weathered an onslaught of personal attacks on her character, both in person and online. Many who trash her in cyberspace do so anonymously.

The school board has said they would consider Boyle’s argument at a recent school board meeting.

The logo and mascot utilized by the Neshaminy High School is a red, white and blue cartoon image of an American Indian wearing a full headdress. While Boyle calls the image and name offensive, many residents of the area say the image and name is honoring native people and Boyle is oversensitive.

Boyle says the image and the name Redskins is racist. She also says the public’s disregard and insensitivity to Native culture is nothing new.

“My father was from Oklahoma and I grew up knowing that he was Cherokee-Choctaw, and he was proud even though he was from a place and time where you couldn't always be,” said Boyle. "My dad and mom would take us back to Oklahoma every summer to see my great grandmother, and we would go to powwows so we could reconnect with our heritage."

“When I was a girl in the 60's and 70's I was teased because of my somewhat Asian look and with the USA being involved in Viet Nam, I was called names like 'Nam baby,' 'chink' or 'gook.' When I told them I was part American Indian they found other names, like 'half breed' and 'savage.'”

Boyle states she was raised to treat all people as equals and has always been sensitive to anyone who is treated unfairly. She is frustrated that the school would continue to support a term that she says was once used to describe a bounty hunter’s term for dead American Indians.

Boyle also said the Neshaminy School District's own Section 547 Discrimination and Harassment policy in calls for the removal of the mascot.

As stated in the document:

It is the policy of the Board of School Directors to support fully the laws prohibiting harassment and discrimination, including harassment and/or discrimination because of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, familial status, disability, medical condition and age as well as sexual harassment, and to maintain a learning environment which is free of any such harassment and discrimination.

The second example after that statement specifically addresses cartoon images:

Impermissible discrimination and/or harassment may take many forms, including but not limited to: … Visual conduct such as derogatory posters, cartoons, drawings, letters, notes, or gestures.

image courtesy Donna Boyle

On November 13th, Boyle attended a School Board work session to address her concerns with school board members.  According to BucksLocalNews.com, Boyle addressed the small crowd with tears in her eyes. “I’m asking for you to stop using it,” she asserted, “I looked at the history of the football team and there were many other names that were used in the past. I’m sure that they can find a better one to use than ‘Redskins.’”

Boyle said she was “extremely uncomfortable” when she went to Neshaminy school events with her oldest son, who is now 31, and saw the walls and gyms emblazoned with the logo. “It’s not fair, you wouldn’t put the ‘N’ word everywhere,” she said.

While several residents spoke in support of Boyle several others said Boyle was out of line and used the example of the Washington Redskins logo. Boyle replied that the NFL team is paid for with ticket sales, “a public school is paid for with tax dollars and government funding.”

At the end of the meeting, School board President Ritchie Webb told Boyle that the school board was not ignoring her, but they needed time to look into the issue before they get back to her about it.

In the days that followed, Boyle was cited in several local news publications and appeared on the local CBS affiliate TV station CBS Philly.

According to Boyle, the response was huge both for and against. Comments ranged from “Boyle needs to get over it and get a life” as well as support for her position.

Boyle said that on November 27, she attended another school board meeting, and once again pleaded for the change.  "I asked them to stand by their policy and I also reminded them of the definition of the term 'redskin,'" she recalled. "After the meeting, one teacher stopped me to say that she has felt the same way as I do for years.”

Neshaminy School Board President Webb told ICTMN that he and the rest of the all-volunteer board needed time to research the matter -- “in order to give the issue the amount of respect it needed.”

“Ms. Boyle came before us last month and was very passionate and certainly made a valid point in which you certainly could understand her position,” said Webb.  “As far as the community goes, I believe that this matter and the term Redskins has certainly brought out the community -- we've had a lot of people send me e-mails that were certainly against changing the name. I must have 75 to 100.”

Webb stated that many people supported the Redskins name, including some who stated they were of Native American descent.

"I have heard that some of the Native American chiefs refer to themselves as Redskins and they refer to others as white skins to differentiate," said Webb. “The Washington Redskins was named after a coach who happened to be of Native American descent.”

Webb says he realizes that there are many factors to consider including the costs of new uniforms for the school teams and replacements of signs and other logos with the Redskins image. He also maintained that more than anything else he wanted to express his respect.

“The intent in any of this was certainly never any disrespect, that's really where it is. It is about at what point and at what cost. I look at people's hearts when they do these things, and what was the motive? The motive was not one in any way shape or form meant in disrespect. The American Indian was known in my eyes -- as someone of respect, because they were a great warrior.”

“Some people have sent me e-mails that said 'Mr. Webb, I have heard you are of Irish descent, what do you feel about the team the fighting Irish? Don’t you feel that is an insult?' and I think, yes it could be. It’s one of those things you may not be able to win. And quite frankly, I am from West Virginia so I am a hillbilly, I also may be part Indian.”

Webb said the board will address the issue after dealing with the current matters at hand and may come up with an answer after the holidays.

“We do have a policy against discrimination and Ms. Boyle did point that out -- which is something we will have to research,” said Webb.  “In all honesty, I have been overwhelmed and have not put the amount of research into this that it deserves.”

Today, Boyle says she will continue to fight to have the name changed even though the school has not yet made a decision.

“Native Americans have suffered for a long time, but in this day with the laws to protect anyone from any form of discrimination, why would any public school board have to ponder the idea of upholding its very own policy which was formed to protect everyone?" Boyle asked. "How they can say 'we will think about it and just give us some time'?  I think the appropriate answer should be, 'We are very sorry but we just didn't know. Now that we do know, we will fix it.'”

“I know some activists have spent many years of their lives fighting this same issue,” says Boyle. “I hope to be able to make them proud by getting it changed here in the Neshaminy school district.”

photograph courtesy Donna Boyle

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I went to Neshaminy for two years, and graduated in 1970. I remember that the mascot had a chilling effect on those of us who were mixed-bloods - so much so, that it is only in recent years I'm finding that so many of my friends were also of mixed ancestry, but kept their Native identity a secret, and I was shocked that the school still used the name. In the 1990's, still stinging but no longer silent, I was part of a effort to change the mascot in Parsippany, NJ. They changed kicking and screaming, but the Redskins became the Red Hawks, and in a few years they got over it. My thanks to Donna Boyle for her efforts. Brian Wilkes, Neshaminy '70, but never a "Redskin"

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you so much for writing this piece on my battle with the Neshaminy school district

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I have two words to start with..CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. LOOK IT UP. SEE WHY ITS ' WRONG AND LEARN.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Donna Boyle , you have the support of The People. Reach out. We are here for you. You are not alone.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
It is sad that the "status quo" is accepted, even when it is wrong. This issue is the same, in my mind, for the cheesey logo of the Cleveland baseball team and some of the music they play at their games. Ms. Boyle is correct - the "n" word would not be a team name plastered all over a school. A black-faced mascot would have had people in literal fights and in courts decades ago but they do not see that it IS the same. It IS racist. Simple. Period. End of argument.

cherokee1959's picture
cherokee1959
Submitted by cherokee1959 on
All they need to do is look in the dictionary for the meaning of "redskin" along with the meaning of any other racial slur to see that they all say the same thing -- unacceptable , racially disparaging , the worst word you can say to a person of a particular race.Members of the communtiy keep saying we mean it in honor but would they say to a black person we are going use the N word all over the school and we mean it in honor. If the school board decides not to stop using the term I will be asking them to give me a list of all the other slurs that are acceptable in the school but I'll bet the list will be very short and only include one word and maybe some legal action would be the next step.I've had some people tell me they have native ancestry and they are honored by the term , I say shame on them for not having any pride and for letting people continue to disregard and disrespet our heritage.

cherokee1959's picture
cherokee1959
Submitted by cherokee1959 on
You are right about cultural appropriation and you can see in the picture I supplied that shows some of the youth at a sports event making a mockery of our heritage. The people in my community are so ignorant and selfish talking about honor but during the whole month of November not one mention of Native American Heritage Month , I even contacted the school authorities and told them that if they want to do something honorable November would be the time to mention it on the sign in front of the school instead of " everybody do the redskin rumble ". This community is so emotionally attached to the racist term and are defending it by telling me I'm crazy & over sensitive , calling me names and telling me to move . I will not back down and to be honest I think they don't have a choice ,they can't deny their own policy # 547 against racism and discrimination .

cherokee1959's picture
cherokee1959
Submitted by cherokee1959 on
This community should not have a vote to keep using a term that by definition is a racial slur , that is unacceptable !!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I respect Ms. Boyle's feelings but don't agree that they should dictate the behavior of an entire region where the majority opinion supports keeping our proud use of the Redskin logo. As Mr. Webb has stated, some in our community of Indian decent are ok with the mascot, so it's not necessarily offensive to all. If I felt the use of the Redskin was widely influencing an unhealthy stereotype then I would likely feel differently, but having put 4 children through this district, and based on the comments I hear from others, I see no evidence that our mascot is promoting that stereotype in our children.

cherokee1959's picture
cherokee1959
Submitted by cherokee1959 on
To the people who defend the use of the term "redskin" in the Neshaminy school district -- is it also now ok to use the term " nigga " because my sons black friends say it's acceptable among friends.

cherokee1959's picture
cherokee1959
Submitted by cherokee1959 on
I'm still fighting for the Neshaminy redskins name change and I won't stop till it's a thing of the past .

Anynomous's picture
Anynomous
Submitted by Anynomous on
We're fighting the same thing here @ the Warwick School District in the Coolest Small Town in America unfortunately.
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