Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer
The board held a public input forum to receive comments about the MHS mascot. Board members listened to comments and made none themselves. The board will vote on whether or not to change the mascot during its Dec. 7 meeting.
The first presenter was Duke Prentup, son of Frank Prentup, who was of Native American descent and coached and taught at MHS. The MHS mascot was changed to the “Indian” in 1940, reportedly in honor of Coach Prentup. Mr. Prentup provided information about his family’s history. He said he is opposed to re-imaging the mascot and believes that the “hows” and “whys” of naming the mascot in 1940 are unknown or have been forgotten. Coach Prentup came to MHS during the Depression; instilled in students the qualities of honesty and integrity; and earned the respect of administrators, faculty, and students. Coach Prentup was called “Chief” because he was a leader. Mr. Prentup noted the name change occurred as an honor bestowed upon an Indian man for his skills in building character and for the qualities exemplified by him, misguided political correctness would be an extinguishment of his father’s legacy, it would be expensive to change the mascot and would result in the destruction of magnificent artwork, and the suggestion that the football field could be renamed for Coach Prentup as a trade-off is a condescending offer, and the field is already named for Lew Lane. Mr. Prentup said the mascot is iconic and spiritual and suggested that the word “symbol” be employed instead of “mascot.” He also suggested Native American history could be promoted in the curriculum and encouraged the board to not forget who the mascot honors and why.
Following Mr. Prentup’s comments, organized groups made presentations. The first group was the student group in favor of retaining the mascot. The student representing the group began by saying a survey of students had shown that 84% preferred keeping the mascot, 13% had no opinion, and 3% wanted change. The student said the mascot honors Indians and doesn’t perpetuate any stereotypes, and those who feel offense don’t understand the reverance the mascot receives. The mascot image was drawn by Brent Yancey, who is of Native American descent, so that invalidates arguments that the image was drawn as offensive. The ReimageMHK (the group wanting to change the mascot) members’ opinions don’t matter if Coach Prentup’s son thinks the mascot is an honor, and the Reimage members aren’t MHS alumni and so they don’t understand. The student said the mascot perpetuates diversity, honors minority groups, and Native Americans can’t be erased from our history. Coach Prentup symbolized honesty and integrity, and the headdress reflects his nickname of “Chief” and the feathers symbolize respect. If the mascot is changed, it would mean letting go of the past. The student also addressed costs and said it would be silly to spend the money to rebrand the school when there are many other needs. Adidas has offered to help schools redesign their mascots and to supplement the costs of change, but that may not mean Adidas will fully fund the change and it requires a 5-year contract with Adidas, which eliminates the option of working with local businesses. Retiring the mascot would hurt the district financially and the money should be used to facilitate learning. The student said times may have changed, but should we change the mascot, and she added that a change for political correctness silences the many.
The students representing the group in favor of changing the mascot said the mascot excludes some people, people shouldn’t be numbers, and people shouldn’t be mascots. The mascot prevents the school from being as inclusive as it should be. The school won’t change because the mascot changes, and MHS will be as great with a new mascot. There are only two approved designs of the mascot, which limits students’ expression, and the students asked fellow students to imagine what it would be like to have a mascot that could be fully embraced and to have someone dressed as the mascot leading cheers. The students said the mascot is wrong and we shouldn’t define and stereotype a whole race. Things have changed, no matter how alumni feel, and we can do better. The students said the rhetoric of great respect and the strict guidelines for use of the mascot show the mascot is prone to abuse. When students were surveyed, some also provided written comments, and some of the comments were violent and too inappropriate to share at the forum. How other schools treat the mascot with disrespect can’t be controlled. The students concluded by saying the school environment should be comfortable for all.
The next group was a group comprised of alumni, parents of alumni, and citizens in favor of retaining the mascot, and Mike Smith spoke for the group. Mr. Smith said the Indian is a symbol, and there hasn’t been a mascot for 20 years. The current design was done by Mr. Yancey, who is of Native American descent. The school board had discussed changing the mascot in 2001 and had decided to retain it and to learn more about Native American culture. The mascot was selected to honor Coach Prentup, and there is no disrespect to Indian culture. A 2001 Civil Rights Commission Statement said there should be no images that mock or trivialize religion and culture, and inappropriate images block contemporary understanding of Native Americans. Mr. Smith said that the K-State Indigenous Alliance had called those who disagree with them as “hangs around the fort Indians.” Schools are where diverse groups come together, and that’s why MHS is so successful. Mr. Smith said teachers should teach the historic truth, and the image of Coach Prentup is historic truth. He said new families should be welcomed, and he suggested that flags could be displayed representing where students are from, families could tell their stories in the classroom, and students could make field trips, such as to archaeological sites, to extend their education. Mr. Smith said the retain group has tried to work with ReimageMHK, and it may not be perfect, but it could be better.
ReimageMHK members made their presentation of changing the mascot. They said the mascot is a stereotype that hurts students and oversimplifies real Native Americans. The mascot is a stereotype and uses Hollywood images of Native Americans. The speakers presented several statistics about the impact of mascots and said that even neutral and positive stereotypes can hurt students and can cause them to not perform as well as they might have. The mascot hurts Native American students, but it also hurts all students because it positions some students to feel superior. The speakers said a Native American mascot increases biases, especially in towns with a Native American mascot. They provided examples of how the mascot has been used, including a T-shirt that says “tribal elder,” a school team called “Cyborg Indians,” an incorrect use of a medicine wheel on the yearbook cover, and inappropriate cheers, like “Stomp the Indians.” The speakers said these examples abuse Native American spirituality, contribute to anti-Indian racism, and define “Indianness.” The speakers said there’s a better way to honor Coach Prentup, such as with a scholarship named for him, a street, or a building. They encouraged the board to retire the stereotype and to honor the man.
For the rest of the discussion, the forum was opened to all speakers, with the order determined by lottery. Speakers in favor of retaining the mascot cited reasons such as continuing to honor Coach Prentup and his family’s support of it, the mascot is respectful and symbolizes strength, the mascot isn’t demeaning or degrading, only 3% of surveyed students want to change it, changing the mascot would be a triumph to political correctness, the costs associated with changing the mascot, and a speaker of Native American descent who was also a MHS alumnus said she feels the mascot is an honor and described the issue as an “Indian vs. Indian” cause. Steve Prentup and Patty Prentup French also spoke in favor of retaining the mascot, saying the mascot represents the things their father stood for, and his values and ethics should be continued.
People speaking in favor of changing the mascot provided reasons such as our culture has changed and the message and meaning have changed over time; there’s a better way to honor Coach Prentup; the mascot stereotypes and is racist; the mascot echoes the national problem of indifference to Native Americans (a number of speakers referenced the ongoing protests at Standing Rock and the treatment of Native American protestors); Native American culture and identity, especially a marginalized culture, shouldn’t be a mascot; empirical evidence shows the mascot is harmful, and so changing it isn’t only about political correctness; it’s easy for the dominant culture to be blind to the impact; over 2,000 Native American mascots have been changed since 1970; the benefits to all students far outweigh costs; the cost for changing will likely be less than estimated because some uniforms, for example, don’t use the word Indian or mascot imagery on them. One speaker said she had grown up in the South under Jim Crow, and many people at the time had been proud of that symbol, too. She said keeping the mascot is making people live under a stereotype, it’s oppressive and broader than Native Americans, and keeping it means you’re OK with keeping Jim Crow.