BY DAN LEVY
Michigan Department of Civil Rights
When the Michigan Department of Civil Rightsasked the U.S. Department of Education to end the use of American Indian mascots, we expected that many people’s first reaction would be to defend the traditions they represent. Pride runs deep in our state and nowhere is that pride more evident than in our local public schools.
But people who’ve gotten past their initial reaction and read our supporting argument know that we are not saying that every school with an American Indian mascot should be ashamed of it. (Read it.) In fact, we acknowledge that the opposite is true. Mascots were often chosen with the intent of paying tribute to American Indians, providing a unifying symbol under all could gather in shared spirit.
But good intentions only go so far.
New studies establish that harm is caused to students even when the mascots are limited only to positive images. These harms include decreased academic performance and lower feelings of self-esteem, self-worth and achievement. When we know an action (or in this case, a symbol) causes harm to the very students we are called upon to protect and nurture, change is needed.