Donna Boyle has lived in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania for the past thirty years and has always been offended by her town’s high school mascot, the Redskins. Several years ago, Boyle’s first son had attended the high school, which was tough to manage. But when her youngest son started high school just this year, Boyle decided she's had enough, and began a lone crusade to encourage the school to change the name.
In the short months since starting her campaign against the name, Boyle has weathered an onslaught of personal attacks on her character, both in person and online. Many who trash her in cyberspace do so anonymously.
The school board has said they would consider Boyle’s argument at a recent school board meeting.
The logo and mascot utilized by the Neshaminy High School is a red, white and blue cartoon image of an American Indian wearing a full headdress. While Boyle calls the image and name offensive, many residents of the area say the image and name is honoring native people and Boyle is oversensitive.
Boyle says the image and the name Redskins is racist. She also says the public’s disregard and insensitivity to Native culture is nothing new.
“My father was from Oklahoma and I grew up knowing that he was Cherokee-Choctaw, and he was proud even though he was from a place and time where you couldn't always be,” said Boyle. "My dad and mom would take us back to Oklahoma every summer to see my great grandmother, and we would go to powwows so we could reconnect with our heritage."
“When I was a girl in the 60's and 70's I was teased because of my somewhat Asian look and with the USA being involved in Viet Nam, I was called names like 'Nam baby,' 'chink' or 'gook.' When I told them I was part American Indian they found other names, like 'half breed' and 'savage.'”
Boyle states she was raised to treat all people as equals and has always been sensitive to anyone who is treated unfairly. She is frustrated that the school would continue to support a term that she says was once used to describe a bounty hunter’s term for dead American Indians.
Boyle also said the Neshaminy School District's own Section 547 Discrimination and Harassment policy in calls for the removal of the mascot.
As stated in the document:
It is the policy of the Board of School Directors to support fully the laws prohibiting harassment and discrimination, including harassment and/or discrimination because of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, familial status, disability, medical condition and age as well as sexual harassment, and to maintain a learning environment which is free of any such harassment and discrimination.
The second example after that statement specifically addresses cartoon images:
Impermissible discrimination and/or harassment may take many forms, including but not limited to: … Visual conduct such as derogatory posters, cartoons, drawings, letters, notes, or gestures.
image courtesy Donna Boyle
On November 13th, Boyle attended a School Board work session to address her concerns with school board members. According to BucksLocalNews.com, Boyle addressed the small crowd with tears in her eyes. “I’m asking for you to stop using it,” she asserted, “I looked at the history of the football team and there were many other names that were used in the past. I’m sure that they can find a better one to use than ‘Redskins.’”
Boyle said she was “extremely uncomfortable” when she went to Neshaminy school events with her oldest son, who is now 31, and saw the walls and gyms emblazoned with the logo. “It’s not fair, you wouldn’t put the ‘N’ word everywhere,” she said.
While several residents spoke in support of Boyle several others said Boyle was out of line and used the example of the Washington Redskins logo. Boyle replied that the NFL team is paid for with ticket sales, “a public school is paid for with tax dollars and government funding.”
At the end of the meeting, School board President Ritchie Webb told Boyle that the school board was not ignoring her, but they needed time to look into the issue before they get back to her about it.
In the days that followed, Boyle was cited in several local news publications and appeared on the local CBS affiliate TV station CBS Philly.
According to Boyle, the response was huge both for and against. Comments ranged from “Boyle needs to get over it and get a life” as well as support for her position.
Boyle said that on November 27, she attended another school board meeting, and once again pleaded for the change. "I asked them to stand by their policy and I also reminded them of the definition of the term 'redskin,'" she recalled. "After the meeting, one teacher stopped me to say that she has felt the same way as I do for years.”
Neshaminy School Board President Webb told ICTMN that he and the rest of the all-volunteer board needed time to research the matter -- “in order to give the issue the amount of respect it needed.”
“Ms. Boyle came before us last month and was very passionate and certainly made a valid point in which you certainly could understand her position,” said Webb. “As far as the community goes, I believe that this matter and the term Redskins has certainly brought out the community -- we've had a lot of people send me e-mails that were certainly against changing the name. I must have 75 to 100.”
Webb stated that many people supported the Redskins name, including some who stated they were of Native American descent.
"I have heard that some of the Native American chiefs refer to themselves as Redskins and they refer to others as white skins to differentiate," said Webb. “The Washington Redskins was named after a coach who happened to be of Native American descent.”
Webb says he realizes that there are many factors to consider including the costs of new uniforms for the school teams and replacements of signs and other logos with the Redskins image. He also maintained that more than anything else he wanted to express his respect.
“The intent in any of this was certainly never any disrespect, that's really where it is. It is about at what point and at what cost. I look at people's hearts when they do these things, and what was the motive? The motive was not one in any way shape or form meant in disrespect. The American Indian was known in my eyes -- as someone of respect, because they were a great warrior.”
“Some people have sent me e-mails that said 'Mr. Webb, I have heard you are of Irish descent, what do you feel about the team the fighting Irish? Don’t you feel that is an insult?' and I think, yes it could be. It’s one of those things you may not be able to win. And quite frankly, I am from West Virginia so I am a hillbilly, I also may be part Indian.”
Webb said the board will address the issue after dealing with the current matters at hand and may come up with an answer after the holidays.
“We do have a policy against discrimination and Ms. Boyle did point that out -- which is something we will have to research,” said Webb. “In all honesty, I have been overwhelmed and have not put the amount of research into this that it deserves.”
Today, Boyle says she will continue to fight to have the name changed even though the school has not yet made a decision.
“Native Americans have suffered for a long time, but in this day with the laws to protect anyone from any form of discrimination, why would any public school board have to ponder the idea of upholding its very own policy which was formed to protect everyone?" Boyle asked. "How they can say 'we will think about it and just give us some time'? I think the appropriate answer should be, 'We are very sorry but we just didn't know. Now that we do know, we will fix it.'”
“I know some activists have spent many years of their lives fighting this same issue,” says Boyle. “I hope to be able to make them proud by getting it changed here in the Neshaminy school district.”
photograph courtesy Donna Boyle