There’s a campaign to retire Twin Valley’s Native American mascot. To address it now is ‘irresponsible,’ says superintendent.
Twin Valley’s superintendent, Patrick Winters, said that "in the midst of a pandemic ... there are more pressing concerns and needs related to student learning.”
For close to two years, Arden Wolfe has been pushing to get the Twin Valley School District to drop its mascot, a Native American in a feathered headdress.
While some other local districts have recently moved to change their nicknames and associated Native American imagery amid national discussion and student-led campaigns — including Radnor and Unionville-Chadds Ford — the 3,000-student Twin Valley, which spans parts of Chester and Berks Counties, has maintained its Raider mascot. Wolfe, a 17-year-old senior at Twin Valley High School, said administrators haven’t given her a meeting, and the school board hasn’t taken up the issue.
The district seems to be “taking an approach — ‘If we ignore it, it might go away,’” Wolfe said, noting that 5,600 people have signed an online petition in favor of changing the mascot. She’s trying to keep the issue before the school board, rallying supporters to attend a meeting Tuesday.
Twin Valley’s superintendent, Patrick Winters, said during a January school board meeting that “the perceived notion by the students of inaction related to the district’s mascot is simply not true,” but “to attempt to give [the issue] its due diligence and time while we are still in the midst of a pandemic is irresponsible, especially when there are more pressing concerns and needs related to student learning.”
In an email Monday, Winters repeated that statement and also said that there were “two students leading the charge to change the mascot, and they continue to bring it up during public comment at board meetings ... even though they have received multiple responses from administration regarding the district’s position on this topic.”
He also said that garnering support from the high school’s student council and starting a club were “the two channels students can follow when wanting to support and champion a cause,” but that the student council didn’t opt to take up the issue and no faculty member was interested “in advising a club whose purpose would be to retire the mascot.”
Stephen Loney, a senior supervising attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s legal department, said that the organization was working with Wolfe and her family and had been in touch with Twin Valley about “some of the school’s conduct” in regards to Wolfe’s efforts.
Students have a right to make their voices heard at school board meetings, and the district’s response “raises some serious concerns about chilling their right to free speech on this issue,” Loney said Monday.
Wolfe said she expects students from other districts to attend Twin Valley’s meeting Tuesday, along with State Rep. Chris Rabb of Philadelphia, who has been working on legislation to ban Native American mascots, and Amanda Funk, who leads a Reading-based group called the Widoktadwen Center for Native Knowledge, dedicated to promoting “the visibility of contemporary Native people in Berks County and beyond.”
In communities with little representation of Indigenous people, “what fills the void are stereotypes,” said Funk, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. “And that’s not what we want at all.” She voiced concern about caricatured imagery and said the name “Raider” both paints Native people as “scary oppressors” and ignores how they were murdered and displaced by white settlers. The population of the Twin Valley School District is 90% white; 0.2% are American Indian or Alaskan Natives, according to the state.
The Radnor School District last year retired its Raider name to become the Raptors, a change that drew some community opposition, though school board incumbents won reelection in November. In 2020, Unionville-Chadds Ford ended its Indians nickname, instead becoming the Longhorns.
The changes came amid national discussion on the appropriation of Native American imagery. Washington’s NFL team abandoned its former nickname in July 2020; the team this year adopted Commanders as its name. (Neshaminy High School still maintains the name dropped by Washington.)
Wolfe said George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 prompted her to learn more about the movement to end Native American mascots. She said the “Retire the Raider” campaign has support from some students, parents, and community members, but there has also been opposition; a petition to “Keep the Twin Valley Raiders logo the SAME!!!” has garnered 1,500 signatures.
At one point, Wolfe said, someone created a meme with the high school’s logo over Floyd’s face and her face over Derek Chauvin’s, the Minneapolis police officer convicted of Floyd’s murder.
The backlash “reflects the mood at Twin Valley, how hesitant people are to change because of lack of education on Indigenous issues,” she said.