Beyond the Rebel: District digs for roots of racism

By Megan Wehring

Schools across the state of Texas, including Hays High School, have reconsidered their mascot amid controversial outcry.

The Hays Rebels originated in 1968. The school didn’t start distancing itself from Confederacy associations until the 2000s. In light of recent events, mass attention toward the Rebel mascot has spurred across social media.

“The mascot has to be something that’s a unifying symbol of a school,” Tim Savoy, chief communication officer for Hays CISD, said. “When you see the passions, the hurt and all of the divisiveness that comes with it, we believe that it has ceased to serve its purpose of what a mascot needs to be.”

Many members of the Hays community are outspoken about their experiences. Board secretary Vanessa Petrea said that all current and former students should be proud of their high school.

“We should be known for being a place that fosters a sense of community, family and belonging,” Petrea said. “But, how can we do that if we continue to support symbols that alienate 25% of our community and divide us?”

At the July 16 meeting, Hays High School senior Alena Hernandez spoke up about her experience organizing the student committee to change the mascot. She was stunned to receive negative backlash against her for her opinion. Hernandez informed the board that some members of the community created fake accounts solely to message her hateful comments.

Board Vice President Will McManus said the unacceptable behavior toward Hernandez was uncalled for in any situation.

“It really honestly breaks my heart,” McManus said. “Adults that were a part of that really need to spend some time reflecting on what matters in their life. I’m just really upset about it. It should never happen.”

Trustee Meredith Keller suggests the board should discuss institutional racism in the district.

“Institutional racism is 100% real,” Keller said. “We have the opportunity to actually do something about that. We do hold power there. This is an institution and we need to dig deep and make sure that we are not doing that.”

Board President Esperanza Orosco said in order for all members of the community to feel like they have a seat at the table, there needs to be respect from both sides.

“We really had to hear from our students,” Orosco said. “We really had to have those hard conversations. But we can have hard conversations without being hateful, without being rude, without saying the most profane things out there.”

Keller also encourages the students to stay positive as the district goes through the new mascot selection.

“This is a terrible time in our society and in our world right now,” Keller said. “I really hope that our students and our staff can be kind as we move through this process.”

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