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Debate over MSHS nickname must be civil

You wouldn’t think a potential name change would cause a lot of consternation, but that seems to be the case with the Redmen/Redettes controversy brewing in the Marquette Area Public Schools district, specifically Marquette Senior High School.

At the Dec. 16 MAPS Board of Education meeting, the recommendation by the Marquette Senior High School Nickname Research Committee to discontinue the Redmen/Redette nicknames was presented.

An audience gathered in the MSHS Little Theater to listen to the report and give comments, but that crowd dwarfed in size compared to the one that showed up on Monday at Kaufman Auditorium for the most recent board meeting.

A large stack of slips from people wishing to speak at the meeting was presented to the board, all concerning the nickname issue.

Opinions were sharply divided, with a few contentious moments.

“It was never the intention of the board, staff or administration for the nickname issue to become so divisive,” MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders said in a statement last week. “We were focused on improving the climate and culture for our students. We are seeking solutions to alleviate the stress and anxiety our students experience in what should be their most memorable years of school. We strive to provide the best possible academic environment for our students.”

As with many endeavors that start out with good intentions, things can take a wrong turn. In the Redmen/Redettes issue, that shouldn’t have happened.

Before Monday’s meeting, opinions were strong on both sides. A Facebook page, Save The Marquette Redmen, was created to drum up support for keeping the names.

The Northern Michigan University Native American Student Association via Facebook also called for people to contribute to the record and/or support students and community members speaking on the issue on Monday.

Having a firm viewpoint on either side is understandable. Many alumni and current students have a strong attachment to the nicknames, as do many alumni and students from other high schools, colleges and universities.

On the other hand, some Native Americans don’t like the monikers Redmen and Redettes, even though the origin of the name was from the crimson-red of Harvard University, alma mater of a former supintendent.

It evolved into a different meaning, though, and although the Indian headdress logo has been phased out at MSHS, that different meaning still remains. To many Native Americans, Redmen and Redettes are racial slurs that perpetuate stereotypes.

In fact, many non-Native Americans have the same belief.

As with many issues, each side has to consider the opinion of the other. A non-Native American probably will never know what it’s like to be part of that demographic, and non-alumni probably don’t have the same attachment to the nicknames as the people who spent years at MSHS.

We don’t envy the school board on this one. Whatever decision it makes, there will be strong opposition.

We are confident, however, that it will take its due diligence in making a decision. And whatever the decision, the public needs to accept it and move on.

In the meantime, civil discourse should reign. What matters most is the well-being of students, no matter what the nickname.

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