Speaker discusses stereotypes, suggests consulting Natives during forum in Turners

  • Speaker Laura Valdiviezo, an associate professor from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, spoke to the crowd during the second educational forum.

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/8/2016 11:09:50 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Laura Valdiviezo, an associate professor from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst College of Education, answered questions and spoke to the possible processes the school district might enact when deciding whether to keep or change the Turners Falls High School mascot, currently the Indians.

She spoke about the multicultural and social justice perspectives as it pertains to the current mascot debate. Valdiviezo presented several studies that showed negative effects of Native American mascots and logos on Native American students and discussed national organizations that have called for the end of use of Native American imagery with sports teams.

She also talked about teams like the Florida State Seminoles, who have taken steps to incorporate the Seminole tribe in their decision-making processes. She used the sports program as an example of a way to keep a mascot or logo with Native American imagery while doing so in a positive, productive way.

“Those images are there, but they are there because they are part of a conversation,” she said.

Valdiviezo said that either way, change should happen. Either the mascot itself will change or the school should take steps to incorporate local Native Americans into decisions about the mascot and how the school represents the “Indians.” She recommended collaboration and conversations with local Native Americans.

She said mascots can often cause unintentional harm, and that there’s often an idea that the mascot in question is a positive portrayal of Native peoples and an attempt to honor them. But, she said, that doesn’t erase the fact that those portrayals are stereotypes.

“If the images are stereotypes, even if they are positive, they are still stereotypes,” she said.

Valdiviezo spoke for about 30 minutes and then answered 30 minutes worth of questions and comments from the school committee and the crowd of about 25.

She showed research that illustrated the negative impact on Native students. She said the outcomes were lowered self esteem, sense of future possibilities for oneself and faith in Native communities. The study also found that Native youth who supported nicknames and logos were more negatively affected than Native youth who were critical of them.

The School Committee asked Valdiviezo a lot of questions, several about crafting an inclusive approach to make sure no opinion is being left out in the school community.

“This isn’t about a blame game,” said member Marjorie Levenson, who also touched on the name calling and labeling that has happened on both sides of the debate.

Valdiviezo said the challenge lies in moving from opinions to knowledge and learning from both the people who want to keep it and those who want to change it.

“Both outcomes carry a responsibility,” she said. “Something has to be done. In either decision there may stereotypes that are still there.”

The event was the second in a series of four the district is hosting to help inform the School Committee ahead of its decision to either keep or change the Turners Falls High School “Indians” mascot.

“I think you’ve given everyone a lot to think about,” District Superintendent Michael Sullivan said at the end of the night.

Reach Miranda Davis at
413-772-0261 ext. 280
or mdavis@recorder.com.

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