Officials create new diversity task force for public schools

Aug 4, 2020

Dartmouth Public Schools will form a new Equality and Diversity Committee to examine the controversial high school logo and other issues affecting underrepresented groups following a School Committee decision to set up the task force at a meeting on August 3.

The new 10-person committee will comprise two members from five different stakeholder groups: school administrators, School Committee members, Dartmouth High students, community members, and teachers or staff.

Students on the task force will also receive input from student-led groups in Dartmouth Middle and High Schools. 

Last October, the Dartmouth School Committee voted 3-2 against forming a task force to hear from the community on the logo issue.

The decision comes after a public forum hosted last week by NAACP New Bedford discussing the high school symbol, and as sports teams and brands nationwide reexamine their minority representation while bills prohibiting Native American mascots for Massachusetts public schools wend their way through the state legislature.

Several public comments read out at the August 3 meeting expressed opinions in favor or against further discussion of the issue.

“Please stop discussing and rehashing our name and logo,” read one message from Maria Sousa. “The community strongly supports it. This is well known. Please focus on reopening schools and educating our children...Less divisive politics and more education, please.”

Jose Fernandes wrote asking the School Committee to “ensure your focus is solely on children returning to school and not political agendas of individual members.”

Meanwhile Brooke Werley urged the Committee to take up the issue in her comment. 

“I strongly support the removal of the Indian mascot and logo,” she wrote. “It is important to consider the effect on other schools who interact with Dartmouth students.”

Werley went on to note that “The depiction of a brave, aggressive young warrior creates a stereotype — this alone should be enough to dissuade us from using their likeness as a mascot.” 

Further, she argued, the mascot does not honor the full experience of natives by excluding women, elders, and children. “If we truly wanted to be respectful...we could start by teaching and honoring the spectrum of the experience of the People of the First Light,” she noted.

“Systemic racism is a centuries-old problem, and feels overwhelming,” Werley concluded. “That is why these little actions are so important.”

School Committee Chair Chris Oliver said that although a lot of attention is focused on the logo, “keep in mind that is not the sole task of this committee.”

“There have been concerns over the years on equality and diversity issues at Dartmouth schools, particularly Dartmouth High School,” he stated. “I think it’s time we look to address what we can...I look at this as an opportunity to educate myself and learn a little bit about what goes on in the schools.”

The Committee voted unanimously to form the task force.