At least 12% of Pennsylvania (brick-and-mortar) public high school graduates come from a school with a racist mascot.
For over five years, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been keeping meticulous records of school board policies as they relate to LGBTQ inclusion throughout the commonwealth. This is a very intense process, which involves the tracking of numerous policies across 500 districts. Many districts do not share their policies online, so this research has us sending regular Right to Know requests, which requires financial resources and can take months to resolve. We are proud to have collected this information and finally have the ability to collate our findings in producing a landmark report on the status of LGBTQ-inclusion in Pennsylvania school district-level policy this winter.
As an intersectional social justice organization, we would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to identify other ways through policy that Pennsylvania public schools make education systems unsafe for students. After seeing dozens of outright racists mascots in our policy research, we knew this epidemic should be clearly brought to light on a statewide level.
Racist mascots create a hostile school environment for both Native students and students of conscience by promoting wholly offensive imagery as a core community value.
For further reading on this issue, please go to Native writers and perspectives. A national, Native-led organization was formed in 2014 to challenge the use of racist mascots in the United States in Not Your Mascots. Their website had a ton of information and shares ways to get involved. The National Congress of American Indians has a useful website summarizing this history as well, and is a partner of the Not Your Mascots organization.
In Pennsylvania, there have been campaigns mounted by students at some of these schools to change their mascots.
Recently, the student newspaper at Neshaminy High School in Montgomery County took a bold stand against their mascot being the “R*dskins.” A major battle erupted in 2013 when The Playwickian was refusing to print “R*dskin” in their paper. A complaint was filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which in 2015, ruled the school had 90 day to change their mascot. The legal and community process is ongoing surrounding alleged violations of First Amendment.
Our research is based on the 584 brick-and-mortar public high schools who graduated students in 2016. We identified 67 schools as having racist mascots. Using the most recent enrollment statistics available from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), 59,251 students are enrolled at these schools identified with racist mascots schools. That is about the population of the Lancaster, our commonwealth’s 10th largest municipality. These schools are located all throughout the state. In context with all PDE-designated public school district entities that graduated students in 2016, this means that at least 12% of Pennsylvania (brick-and-mortar) public high school graduates come from an institution with a racist mascot.
Racist Public School Mascot Map
[As of December 2016]
We did not count ethnic-inspired mascots such as the Vikings, Trojans, Scotties, or Dutchmen as racist. While they may present ethnic stereotypes, they do not promote and are not rooted in white supremacy. We also found two schools with Quakers for a mascot. This is felt as inappropriate by many Quakers, but again, not based in white supremacy.
Several district names are inspired by Native tribal nations located in their regions: The Mohawk School District, in Lawrence County (about halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh). Their mascot is the Raiders. The Iroquois School District in Erie County has Braves as their mascot.
Of all 584 high school mascots identified, Indians was only second in popularity to Panthers, which were in 26 schools.
Here is a breakdown of the offensive names and their usage:
|Mascot Name||Number of High Schools||Student Population|
We can all learn from the strength and commitment of the students at Neshaminy, and others who are actively resisting racist mascot names. These changes will not happen just by identifying mascots as racist. There are many personal conversations ahead in these communities about how much harm they cause people – with students, civic leaders, and ultimately, school board members.
The time to take action is always now.