As the country is looking at what is considered offensive to minority groups, a local conversation about an old debate has reignited.
In the past week, there have been two opposing petitions circulating regarding the Savannah R-III School District mascot, one to change it and another to keep it.
The mascot has been the Savages for years and has been part of the discussion of potentially offensive mascots along with other schools in the area.
“Any positive change to where we take down the mascot and say, ‘That’s offensive,’ as a community we are learning to be better, that’s a big change that can really show students who are young and malleable in their mentality that it’s OK to change your mind, it’s OK to say, ‘I was wrong, but I can change my mind and fix that to be a better person,’” Amanda Barr, creator of the petition to change the mascot, said.
Barr is an alumnus of the Savannah School District and said that she had always felt uncomfortable with the mascot.
“To have someone at a football game dressing up in a costume, that’s kind of mocking your beliefs on land that was stolen from you. It just reaffirms the colonization mentality that manifest destiny of white people deserve this,” Barr said.
The organizer of the other petition to keep the mascot, Jeffrey Hovey, who did not respond to an interview request, stated on the petition page that “(the mascot) has been an icon for our community for as long as most of us remember. A savage can be from any race or land. You may hear that it is racist ... but it has no bad intentions toward anyone or any race. Let’s show them that we love, honor and want it to remain!”
Barr referenced an article from the American Psychological Association that called for the ‘retirement of American Indian Mascots’ in 2005, which stated that it “Establishes an unwelcome and oftentimes hostile learning environment for American Indian students.”
Many of the comments on the petition to keep the mascot reflect feelings of pride of being a savage.
“That’s a particular part of the problem, is that people will fight tooth and nail to say, ‘it’s pride’ or ‘it’s honoring them.’ If you wanted to honor them, you’d honor the treaties,” Barr said.
The topic of mascots and whether or not to change has been going on for decades and is cited at changethemascot.org, where many have been changed.
Barr plans to present the petition to the Savannah School Board at its next meeting on July 14.
When asked about the expectations she has for this meeting and her future plans to keep this conversation going, Barr said, “It’s mostly about pressure over time, I honestly don’t expect the school board to meet and decide. This is the kind of thing that’s going to take them a while and a lot of thinking and a lot of probably arguing to get through (...) my point is just to really be loud and constant.”
Barr said she understands what goes into a decision like this and that finances play a big part in that. She and other supporters of the change also have offered other mascot ideas such as an owl or sparrow.
So far the petition to keep the mascot has reached 1,949 as of Tuesday and the petition to change it has reached 1,749.