Collegiate’s new Dutch mascot is a flashpoint in the race debate

The national reckoning on race and privilege that caused upheaval at schools across the country took to Collegiate, one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, when a group of black public The statement asked the 400-year-old academy to “address its own issues of racism and intolerance. ”

In response, Collegiate officials formed a 17-member task force, which a year later produced a full 407-page report on the school’s “history and symbolism,” containing Full of graphics, survey results, feedback from people’s scores with a connection to Collegiate.

Then in January, three years after students called for change, the final results of the study were sent to parents and alumni in an email: The Collegiate’s mascot had a makeover.

In recent years, schools across the United States, from private schools like Collegiate to public high schools to Ivy League universities, have struggled to adapt to rapidly changing standards race and privilege by diversifying faculties, expanding curricula, and adopting anti-racism guidelines.

Many of Collegiate’s exclusive private school partners in New York, which fiercely protect their privacy, have faced controversies of their own. At Brearley, Chapin and Spence, among others, troublesome statements from students of color were aggregated on dedicated social media sites. At Grace Church and Dalton Schools, training against misogyny has taken the lead to small uprisings and angry letters.

At the Collegiate, the school’s mascot – a winking, amputated caricature of a Dutch settler – has emerged as a flashpoint. The decision to change it was met, predictably, with some outcry – but on both sides.

Some lament that what they see as an important part of the Collegiate’s legacy is being erased. They see the Dutch mascot as an unlikely embodiment of school pride and a dear connection to tradition at the all-boys school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

There were others who supported the original call for a change to the mascot, seen by some as offensive, ranging from central European and racist undertones to crude depictions of disabilities, legs cut off. But they see the results of the extensive research project as a mere rip-off that does not confront the broader issues of race and inclusion at the Collegiate.

Luca Rojas, 32, who graduated from the school in 2008, said: “It does little to address systemic racism and socio-cultural inequality in the Collegiate.

While rethinking the mascot is commendable, Mr. Rojas said, changing it is “just skimming the surface of what really needs to be done to tackle systemic racism and injustice.” sociocultural equality at the Collegiate, which just makes it feel much more empty and productive.”

Others have seen merit in the move. One recent graduate, 20-year-old Rifat Islam, calls the mascot issue “a difficult balancing act for schools.”

Mr Islam, who graduated from the College in 2019 and is now a Yale student, added: “It was more important to me that we started the conversation.”

Report of the task force, that is posted on the Collegiate website, also mentions plans to create a second task force dedicated to the school’s admissions and retention policies, but gives no other details.

Officials at Collegiate, a K-12 school with about 650 students, did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article about changes to the curriculum, faculty, or other aspects. school.

Founded in 1628, Collegiate has a long list of distinguished graduates including one of America’s founding fathers, the first governor of New York City, John F. Kennedy Jr. and actor David Duchovny. With tuition and fees around $60,000 a year, the school is consistently ranked as one of the best private schools in the country. Most graduates go to top colleges.

A major objection to the mascot is that it is widely known as “Peg Leg Pete” and is widely believed to represent Peter Stuyvesant, the 17th-century wooden-legged Dutch leader of New Amsterdam , whose legacy has been increasingly criticized for his ownership. of slavery, in favor of slavery and anti-slavery policies.

Stuyvesant’s name is still used by the prestigious Stuyvesant public high school, where sports teams known as the Peglegs, and by the Stuyvesant Town residential complex that spans the East Side of Manhattan.

The Collegiate controversy began in February 2019, when the organization for students of color, Jamaa, said a letter published in the school paper that “Collegiate must address its own issues of racism and intolerance.”

Jamaa’s letter, signed by 28 students, calls for a more inclusive, less European curriculum, and more diversity among teachers and administrators beyond “heterosexual white men.” love”.

In 1969, the letter said, there were two black students in the graduating class. In 2019, there were also two black students in the graduating class.

“Collegiate is a place where Black children are stared at their hair and repeatedly touched without their permission as if they were petting zoo animals,” the letter read.

Among the nine steps the students asked the school to take was the fifth step: “seriously reassess our school mascot.” The letter called Stuyvesant “a staunch opponent” who “rules with hatred and racism.”

“Is this the man we want to represent the Collegiate?” letter asked. “Are his values ​​consistent with ours?”

The report calls the Dutch mascot “a common reference in school life, synonymous with school itself.”

The report said the task force – made up of Collegiate students, staff and trustees – had “accepted a mission to fight racism and find ways for students and teachers to fight whites.” , privilege and racial prejudice.”

A historian was hired as part of an effort to examine the Collegiate’s place in history amid such questionable factors as Stuyvesant’s personal legacy and the existence of slavery in Manhattan, Netherlands. first period.

The task group surveyed and interviewed more than 1,600 students, parents, faculty, and alumni about mascots and other school symbols, which they noted “often become representative of only external emotions. below the surface, whether at school or in society, especially with regard to race and power. ”

Several interviewees were asked to come up with a word or phrase related to Dutch nicknames and mascots. The responses ranged from positive (“symbolic,” “historic,” “so far”) to negative (“racist,” “anti-Semitism,” “… shameful”).

Finally, after three years of research and redesign, a modernized image of the Dutch was sent to thousands of parents and alumni last month.

Gone are the aspects that some would call offensive, including the original character’s legs and even his identity: The new character is shown in silhouette, with his face covered hidden.

As part of the same review process, the Collegiate abandoned other traditions, including mentions of God in the motto of the secular school and on its official seal.

The report also recommends addressing other offensive pieces in Collegiate’s history, including a battle song printed in a 1964 school handbook that the task force deemed “worth re-examining.” The song celebrates the colonial ancestors of the Collegiate, “strong Old Dutchmen” who came to America and “informed the wandering Indian men, ‘You must get out of the way. “

Chinmay Deshpande, a 2020 graduate student and task force member, says that despite an “undeniable” connection to Stuyvesant, there has been significant opposition to the change of spirit. object. Opponents of the move include many former students who have emailed school officials to ask why the matter is under review.

“If that is the reaction,” said Deshpande, 19, “then I am very pessimistic about systemic change at the Collegiate.”

Alumni’s reaction to the mascot change was mixed.

Several graduate students told the task force that they were in favor of changing the mascot; others say that doing so leads to political correctness. Some people suggest keeping the mascot but using it to educate students about the complex history of the Collegiate.

“I wonder why we spend so much time, effort and money on this?” one former student said in the task force report. “Students’ future excellence isn’t tied to athletic icons, but to how we interact with each other in and out of the classroom.”

Another graduate student, in an explicit study of Jamaa’s 2019 complaints, said, “Don’t let some kid trying to add a paragraph to their college essay destroy more than 200 years. traditional.” Collegiate’s new Dutch mascot is a flashpoint in the race debate

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