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What’s in a name?

Redmen/Redettes at issue - Divided community sounds off in MSHS sports nickname controversy

A sizable crowd listens to people speak in favor of and against the proposed discontinuance of the Marquette Senior High School nicknames Redmen and Redettes on Monday in Kaufman Auditorium in Marquette. The Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education did not take action on the matter. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

This article has been updated to reflect a change in the name of a Facebook group.

MARQUETTE — Kaufman Auditorium on Monday night was packed with people giving, or listening to, varying ideas on whether to discontinue the Marquette Senior High School nicknames of Redmen and Redettes.

The Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education entertained dozens of opinions on the issue at Monday’s meeting, which followed the Marquette Senior High School Nickname Research Committee’s recommendation to cease the nicknames’ use. The committee issued its report at the Dec. 16 MAPS board meeting.

The subject has been simmering in the school district for years, but a social media firestorm has taken place following the recent resurrection of the topic, which wasn’t an action item on Monday’s agenda.

However, area residents and MSHS students spoke out for and against discontinuing the nicknames, using words such as “polarizing” and “disappointing.”

The name Redmen originated from the crimson-red color symbolizing the Harvard University alma mater, of a former superintendent. However, as the years progressed, it began to change in meaning and became associated with Native Americans.

The school district, though, has phased out its logo of an Indian in a headdress.

“The board is here to listen,” MAPS Board President Rich Rossway said.

Michael Joy said he agrees with the committee’s decision to change the names to “something that is more appropriate for the age in which we live and more respectful of all people.”

Joy, coach of the Northern Michigan University Quiz Bowl team, said the MSHS team has achieved success at the event, whose matches have featured questions about Native American culture and other academic topics.

“It is ironic and unacceptable that students engaged in the celebration of knowledge and understanding the world’s cultures have to play under a moniker that is a well-known slur that denigrates those very cultures,” Joy said.

He also called the MSHS girls’ nickname, Redettes, an invented diminutive word that does no justice to the accomplishments of the school’s female athletes, physicians and scholars.

MSHS student Layla Vickers said she is proud of the school, but not the nickname.

“Aside from its racial implications, it implies that women are lesser, smaller, than, an imitation compared to men,” Vickers said. “The fact that our student body isn’t unified under one nickname emphasizes that fact.”

Marquette resident Adina Daar said she looks forward to the nicknames being retired.

“This board has the opportunity to join the schools that have already changed to support and inspire others across the region and nation to do the same,” Daar said.

Many area residents came out in favor of keeping the Redmen and Redettes nicknames.

MSHS student Hunter Simon said he considers himself a proud Marquette Redman, with the word not meant to be offensive or racist.

“We use it to mean that you’re strong, powerful, intelligent, brave, a force to be reckoned with,” Simon said. “You can find evidence of this everywhere you go in Marquette.”

Simon said he and his peers believe it’s a waste of time to change the names.

He acknowledged the names might be offensive to some people.

“To the vast majority, it’s not,” Simon said.

Tom Baldwin, who helps moderate the Facebook group “Save the Redmen/Redettes,” said, “This entire exercise is a travesty created by administration supported by the board.”

He told the board “radical teacher activists” have been allowed to harass children and violate their civil rights by calling them “racist and immoral.”

“What we find particularly disturbing, alarming, is that you allow our children and this community to be used and abused by a progressive mob without any consideration or protection of the children,” Baldwin said.

Area resident Karen McDonnell also supported keeping the nicknames.

“I hate to burst your bubble, but nobody comes to the school for academics,” she said.

Instead, they attend MSHS for extracurricular activities and the Redmen bond, “not the bond of the 53% math proficiency score they can call amazing,” McDonnell said.

Marquette resident Jeremy Beerman said his two children, one of whom is a current MSHS student and the other a past MSHS student, are members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians as are their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

“None are in favor of the proposed change,” Beerman said.

He also stressed that the origin of the Redmen nickname had nothing to do with Native Americans.

“Intent is everything,” Beerman said. “Original meaning is everything. If you perceive the meaning of something to be other than what it really is, that’s on you.”

MSHS student Emilee Gooch, an MSHS student and member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, talked about her school experience.

“In the last 3¢ years there, the only adversity I faced was from a couple of teachers who decided to be vocal about their disagreement with my opinion on the topic, which is that I support the name Redman,” Gooch said, “and I have only ever seen the overwhelming majority of students at MSHS use the name Redman as a source of pride, something they’re proud to stand behind, proud to represent the Redman.”

No specific timeline for a final decision by the board has been determined.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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