BELLEFONTE — Beginning in 2021-22, Bellefonte Area School District will be known just as the Raiders. After months of debate that has divided a community, the school board voted 6-3 to drop the word “Red” from its official nickname during a special meeting on April 28.
The name change comes two weeks after the board voted to remove all current Native American imagery associated with the name from further usage. That change is to take place over the next year.
In order to move toward a logo that will not misrepresent or stereotype Native Americans, the board also moved to create a committee that will seek public input on a new graphical representation of the nickname “Raiders” that is not centered on any one group’s race, ethnicity or national origin.
The committee will be comprised of representatives from the student body, community, teachers and administrators. The board asked that the committee submit its top three recommendations to the board by the first directors meeting in November.
Board members Jon Guizar, Kimberly Weaver and Jeff Steiner voted against the name change, instead showing support for a motion to keep the Red Raiders name and work with a school branding specialist to create an official branding guide.
Kristen Bruckner, Max Kroell, Julie Fitzgerald, Rodney Musser, Mark Badger and Donna Smith all voted for the motion to drop ‘Red,’ from the name and create the aforementioned committee.
The vote came after months of debate on the subject that has been an ongoing issue in the community. Back in 2015 the chief logo was moved to be the secondary symbol for the district and a red and white letter “B” became the primary logo. The debate over the logo and name “Red Raiders” was again pushed to the forefront in June when, in the wake of nation-wide social justice protest, community members approached the board asking that the mascot be changed due to its racially insensitive nature. Online petitions were created on both sides of the issue.
After some discussion the board agreed to examine the issue, spending months hearing presentations on the history of the Red Raiders in the district, listening to speakers on Native American history and cultural appropriation, among other relevant topics, before making a decision.
The special meeting to discuss the Red Raider name began on April 27 before carrying over to the next day, when more than 100 community members expressed their opinion to the board. Of those attending more than 70 people voiced their opinion that the name should remain the same, while other spoke about the offensive nature of the term.
Some students who spoke during the meeting said it has caused bullying in the school, with students being threatened on social media because they support the name change. Other students, parents and alumni spoke passionately to the board about the pride they felt in being a “Red Raider” and what it means to the community.
Other community members questioned the financial implications of changing the name, especially during a pandemic and with the need for upgrades to the elementary school.
Still others expressed that the term Red Raiders is offensive to Native Americans, making Bellefonte seem like a less inclusive place. In contrast, others said they felt the term is intended to show pride and respect.
Those in favor of keeping the logo often ended their comments with, “I stand with Rachelle.”
Brenda Reichert who organized a rally in support of keeping the Red Raiders said that statement is representative of 2005 Bellefonte Native American graduate Rachelle Edmiston. The former BASD student wrote a letter of support of keeping the Red Raiders name and explained how the moniker gave her a sense of pride.
Some of the public comments expressed concern with how the board went about the decision-making process, feeling that the move had made in haste.
The board addressed these issues while making its decisions on April 28 while recognizing that they could not please everyone. In deciding to drop Red from the name, the board made a comprise that allows the district to keep the Raider, while redefining what a Raider is. The full meeting will be available on the district webpage.
Kroell was one of several board members who brought up the fact that Raider is already used often in the district without the word red attached, making for an easy transition. He said dropping the red would eliminate any possible negative associations.
“A raider can be anything, but once we have that ‘red’ in front of us, I think that presents an issue,” said Kroell.
Bruckner said Red Raiders is a divisive term all around, with the term “red and referring to the Native American population as the enemy who is raiding the land. There are plenty of ways to honor the Native American population, but the nickname of Red Raiders is not one of them.”
Badger cited the board resolution of diversity, inclusivity and equity that was passed earlier this year in making his decision.
“The resolution goes on to say, ‘now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Bellefonte Board of Education stand unequivocally in its commitment to insure an inclusive, diverse and equitable environment for every student, employee, parent and community member. It is my opinion that the name Red Raiders is a racial epithet, a racial stereotype born out of white supremacist ideology,” said Badger. He added, “As an education institution we can not condone the use of anything racist that represents our school district and at the same time try to educate our students on what is correct and acceptable in a modern society.”
Fitzgerald said in the past she did not think of the Red Raider as problematic. Examining the issue independently and with the board, she said, helped her gain a broader understanding of the issue.
“I didn’t think about it from a different perspective before. I think that understanding that there are different lived experiences than our own lived experiences is a big step. It didn’t cross my mind, because my experience was mine, and the lens that I was looking through did not take that into account,” said Fitzgerald.
In showing support of the dropping of the term Red, Musser said “I think it will help us get out of this. This comes up every five years, and now we have an opportunity to end it.”
However, Guizar, Steiner and Weaver said they did not feel the word red was a racist term and was just a part of the school color scheme.
“I think we can define what a Red Raider is, I don’t see why a school color needs to be claimed to be a racial slur or anything else. And I don’t see a Red Raider as a Native American, we described what a Raider is throughout the district and I think if the imagery is gone, I think it is possible to rebrand and do it in a respectful way,” said Guizar.
“Our colors are red and white and while I appreciate everyone’s opinion, I do not feel that Red Raiders together has anything to do with anything racist or comes across as white supremacy or anything of that. I believe red is a color, you choose to make it about race that’s on you,” said Weaver. She agreed with Kroell that the district often does not use the term red in front of Raider any way. “So we don’t use it barely use it now, so what is wrong with keeping it.”
Guizar said he was proud of the civil engagement that the issue brought to the community, but was disheartened when he heard about the stories of bullying that have occurred in the community.
“I get really upset when I hear the stories from students and community members, where you can tell that they suffered at the hands of others…I don’t know who it was. I couldn’t see who was speaking…I could hear that stress in their voice and that infuriates me,” he said, adding later, “I don’t care if your opinion is different than mine, depending on how this vote goes this evening. That behavior is not acceptable.”
Bruckner said she hoped people who were following this issue would participate in future meetings as the school board continues to address issues ongoing such as the elementary schools, the pandemic related learning gap and charter school reform.