Students organize for action on mascot

submitted photo

Seniors Ava Bezaire and Jimmy Holmes, creators of the petition and @improveminooka, are working to change the MCHS mascot.

Emily Mepham, Social Media Director

“In the beginning of everything we were doing, we frequently asked the opinions of other students and teachers to make sure we were approaching things in the right way,” Ava Bezaire, senior, said. “However, now we have established a community of other individuals, groups, and movements from all over the country doing similar things in their areas that we share ideas and questions with.”

On June 18, the @improveminooka accounts on Instagram and Twitter were started by Bezaire and Jimmy Holmes, two seniors from MCHS to “address issues within the Channahon and Minooka Communities.” The accounts followed a petition they posted on entitled “Change Minooka Community High School’s Mascot,” which brought many concerns to light. 

Throughout the last few months, these students have continued through several steps in a process they hope results in positive effects at Minooka, including changing the school mascot. 

“We felt the school and its administration needed an outside push to seriously evaluate our mascot and its harmful effects,” said Holmes. “We felt like, without this outside push, the board wouldn’t have considered removing the mascot as seriously.”

Shortly after the petition to change the mascot was posted, two counter-petitions to keep the mascot were posted.  The petition posted by Holmes and Bezaire has 15,000 more signatures than the counter-petitions combined. It has reached those outside of Illinois, including Native Americans. After the petition was shared by Minooka alum Nick Offerman, the petition gained even more traction and now has over 18,000 signatures, as well as an endorsement from the National Congress of American Indians.

“I definitely did not expect that many supporters,” said Bezaire. “I thought 100 in the first day was a lot, but it just continues to grow and get more signatures.”

Students for Change also created the @improveminooka accounts as a way to post updates about the actions they felt the school was taking to fight racism and harmful stereotypes.

“It seemed like the natural next step,” Holmes said. “The account was made to further raise awareness about the issues at Minooka.”

They want to ensure fellow students and other community members in the Channahon and Minooka areas understand the purpose behind the petition and Improve Minooka. 

“We are trying to shed light on already established native opinions on the topic,” said Holmes. “Our philosophy in our leadership is to educate as many people as possible about the damaging effects of race-based mascots like ours.”

Since its conception, Students for Change has created recommendations for the principal and superintendent of MCHS to “discuss Minooka Community High School’s plans to better our school and community.”

They have also created an email template that students from Minooka can directly contact the Minooka Board of Education to express their opinions and concerns.

In addtion, they have  come up with many suggestions as to what Minooka Community High School can change, such as to “remove depictions of Native Americans in spiritwear or as a logo,” “stop all Native American style songs/chants at school functions” and “stop dressing up as our Native American mascot at assemblies.” They have also called for adding Native American history classes to the curriculum as well as changing the name of the Peace Pipe Chatter, the student newspaper name this article is published under. 

“It really is considered cultural appropriation to wear Native American headdresses at assemblies,” said Bezaire. “The mascot perpetuates racism within our school because it promotes stereotypes about Indigenous people and Native Americans.”

The students involved with Improve Minooka have many questions about a new task force that was created by school officials to “review our school’s mascot.” It will be in session from November 2020 to February 2021 and will include “students, faculty, community members, the Board of Education, and Native voices.” They will focus on “creating a process for what to do after encountering racism or bullying, communicating clear consequences for racial slurs and bullying, reviewing the mascot and its implications, and executing a diverse recruitment strategy.”

“I hope that sooner rather than later Minooka ends up changing the mascot, but we haven’t put much thought into the future,” Holmes said. “I think it’s more about how we get things changed now.”