School Committee Members, Candidates Share Views On Redmen Controversy
Feb 04, 2016 11:00AM
By Bill Gilman
The issue was first raised by two Tewksbury mothers at a School Committee meeting in December.
Last week, hundreds of residents participated in a forum on the issue at the Tewksbury High Gymnasium. The vast majority were there to support keeping the Redmen logo, while a handful spoke in favor of making a change, in the name of racial sensitivity.
The forum was one step in an information gathering process being conducted by Superintendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor, who has said he also wants to hear from Tewksbury High students, as well as members of the Native American community. When he completes the process, O'Connor has said he will be making a recommendation to the school committee on the matter. It is then up to the committee to make the decision to keep or change the log.
Recently, Your Tewksbury Today reached out to all five members of the Tewksbury School Committee, as well as the five residents who have taken out nomination papers to run for seats on the school committee this April and asked their opinions on this hot-button issue.
These were the responses we received.
Jayne Miller (School Committee member) -- Right now I’m waiting to see Dr. O’Connor’s recommendation and I support him following through with that work. I think he did an outstanding job at the meeting the other day and I think his plan to talk to other stakeholders, particularly students, is well thought out.
Jamey Cutelis (School Committee member) -- We are just going to complete the process then make our decision at that point.
Krissy Polimeno (School Committee member and candidate for re-election) -- We are following a process on the mascot issue that Dr. O'Connor has set up.
Arthy Bennett (Candidate for School Committee) -- Let me start by stating that I respect both sides of the issue and their right to voice their opinions. As the proud parent of two Redmen athletes, and based on the discussion at the public forum, I would not advocate to change the Redmen/logo.
Keith Sullivan (Candidate for School Committee) --
As a life long Tewksbury resident and student athlete, class of 89, I am personally against changing our Redmen nickname as I believe it is a sense of pride and honor in this Town. I say nickname because in my 44 years living in this Town, I don't ever remember seeing a mascot. I have spoke about this matter at the public forum and written an editorial about my opinion printed on Dec.30 in the Lowell Sun. As for my stance on what should happen. It is simple to me, we live in a democratic society. As is the case with any issue, we should have an open and honest exchange of ideas and discussion which we had at the public forum this past Wednesday night. The people who were elected to represent us were witness to that, the School Committee. They should then base their vote on their fiduciary responsibility to the residents that elected them and overwhelmingly came out Wednesday night in support of the Redmen name. After all, that is what democracy and representation is all about.
Jeff Sands (Candidate for School Committee) -- The Town of Tewksbury is steeped in Native American history and tradition. From my perspective, the name “Redmen” honors and preserves the heritage of the Wamesit Indians.
As a lifelong resident of Tewksbury and graduate of TMHS Class of 1986, the name “Redmen” represents teamwork, pride, loyalty, sportsmanship and perseverance. While I appreciate and respect the viewpoints of others, I am not in favor of changing the name.
We are the Tewksbury Redmen!
Cheryl Garrity (Candidate for School Committee) -- What’s in a name?
Words, symbols, names all can be very powerful, and very divisive. The American Flag and patriotism, people who would burn the flag in protest; The Celtic Cross, a Crucifix, a Star of David; symbols are everywhere and evoke strong emotions – positive and negative – depending on our connection to them and how they are portrayed. The term Redman and the Native American in full headdress is no different. They are both powerful symbols for Tewksbury athletics and divisive because a significant number of people in town have expressed offense. The debate in my own household is no less divisive and in favor of maintaining the Redman and its symbolism.
I support the current course of action. The Superintendent should complete his discussions with various stake holders. He should further research the likelihood of schools being forced in the near future by the Office for Civil Rights (state or federal) or others to change the mascot. In addition, he should report as to where the mascot is currently placed on school grounds, uniforms, etcetera and what would need to be done to change it, as well as the costs involved. At that point the School Committee should make its decision. I do not believe issues of Civil Rights, such as our mascot, are appropriate for a public vote.
Clearly that is avoiding the question and not what you or the public wants to know.
While it would be the wiser course to simply punt on this question, and then pander to both sides during my campaign, I believe that elected officials should be honest and forthright with their opinions and beliefs even if it may cost them their election. I am in the minority in my house, and the community at large. I feel that the name and mascot should be changed to be more inclusive and respectful. Today I came across a brochure from a summer trip to the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge. Known for capturing the American family, particularly his Thanksgiving Dinner (one in his Four Freedom portraits -- Freedom from Want). In 1964, another period of civil unrest in our country, Rockwell also painted The Problem We All Live With. We see Ruby Ridges, the first African-American child to attend a newly desegregated public school escorted by federal marshals. In the background we see the N word painted on the wall. Today, few would argue how offensive that word is. The 1960’s was a different era when the majority in this country opposed desegregation, truly believed they were not racist and that separate was equal. Today, looking back, very few of us would accept those premises. It took courage for a 6 year old Louisiana girl to take those steps. Change was not easy in the 1960’s but today African-Americans paved the way for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, to attend one public school that serves everyone. Changing the mascot for Tewksbury is not an easy decision either, and not one that should require us to call in federal marshals. Change is difficult, but inevitable. The time will eventually come that we will either change the mascot or be forced by federal or state government to change it. We can be pro-active and make the change now, or wait and be forced to do so at some time in the not too distant future.
Will the public high school maintain the status quo or change its mascot to something that is more inclusive and less divisive? I cannot predict the outcome, but it appears from my family discussions, my discussions with the community, and the forum that I attended, the majority in town supports maintaining the name Redman and a symbol of a Native American in full headdress, as our mascot. If the community at large, as it appears it will, supports the Redman and the mascot, then so be it. I believe our schools have more significant issues that must be addressed regardless of our mascot. While athletics are important to a significant group in our town, not everyone sees that as our priority. Many others are involved in the arts, science and technology, or a myriad of other interests. For me, issues such as improving our schools so that they are all Level 1 schools, (only the North Street currently is a Level 1 school, all others are Level 2); looking at the condition of our elementary schools and finding a way to build one K through 4 building, strengthening our curriculum at all levels to better prepare our children for their futures, and working cooperatively with other town officials and the community at large on those issues that improve our schools on many levels for the different students we serve. While each group has its role in making Tewksbury a great town, it is important to respect and support each other, even when we have differing opinions and even if it is not our personal priority.
(Editor's note: School Committee members Brian Dick and Dennis Francis and candidate Erin Knyff did not return responses by the time of publication. If we receive responses from them we will amend this story.)