Principal's Message - June 11, 2020
Message from Freeman's Principal to the Freeman community:
I am writing today to ask for your help as we assess whether our school’s symbolism and language match our core values as a Freeman Family.
As I’ve written to families the past few weeks, we at DSF believe deeply in building an equitable and inclusive school. This is one of our core values. I shared that we oppose racism and are continually examining our policies and practices for bias to make sure we are an inclusive learning community. Then I signed off as I normally do, using our school’s mascot as mascots are intended, as a means to unify and evoke pride: “Go Rebels.”
While Douglas S. Freeman, our school’s namesake, won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of both Robert E. Lee and George Washington, it is his books on Confederate subjects that inspired our school’s nickname when it first opened in 1954.
We have rightly moved away from much of the imagery and traditions surrounding the name. When our school opened during the Civil Rights era, it was as an all-white school in the former capital of the Confederacy. Displaying the Confederate flag at football games, singing “Dixie,” and the Rebel Man Confederate soldier mascot are relics of the past and do not represent our core values today.
We have attempted over the years to re-frame the meaning of “rebel.” We tell our students — and I write in principal’s messages — that we aspire to be “rebels,” who use our talents to challenge the status quo and change the world. That trail-blazing spirit is a core value of our school and an important skill to impart to our children. This is how I have viewed the word “rebel” and why I’ve felt comfortable saying “Go Rebels!” to close announcements and weekly messages home. Many of you share that perspective of what the rebel nickname means to you.
While our traditions contribute to our strong school culture, this moment in our nation’s history demands that we ask if our symbols and language reflect our core values. In this spirit, hundreds of our students, alumni, families and community members have written over the past few weeks expressing their view that now is the time to change Freeman’s mascot. They make the point that many view our nickname differently: as indicative of a shameful era for our school and community, and as a dividing and unwelcoming force for many students — the opposite of what a school’s symbol should be.
There have been petitions and student-led calls for a mascot change, and just as many petitions and calls for keeping it. However, there has not been a public, school-led, formal examination of the topic until today.
As a steward of the position I hold, and as an individual with just one perspective, I believe my role is to listen to the community, make sure all sides are heard, and then build consensus on the right path forward for the students of DSF. That is what I intend to do starting right now. I want to hear from you, the Freeman Family. How do you feel about our school’s mascot, the Rebels? I want to hear about your lived experiences, your opinion and your reasoning.
I pledge to listen, reflect what I hear and, with a committee formed of community members, students and staff, use that input to make a determination about the future of our school’s “Rebels” mascot. This decision will not be made behind closed doors or without community input, nor will it be a mechanism to avoid the hard conversations we need to have as a community. We will lean in to those conversations. It will also not be determined by a popular vote. We will listen to the community — as many voices as we possibly can — and choose the best course for our students.
Douglas Freeman High School is a model in many ways, and this moment gives us another opportunity to lead. I am optimistic about our ability to have this conversation as a Freeman Family, and model how a community should have such a dialogue. To accomplish this, we will need to listen to one another, acknowledge that our perspective is not the only one, and assume that others have positive intentions. Approaching this dialogue with this stance is critical for several reasons. First, we want to be a model for our current and future students, and second, when the mascot conversation is over, we must remain unified. A unified Freeman Family is a core value that we can all agree on.
How this will work:
We want you to weigh in on this topic, which you can do by visiting this feedback form. This Form will prompt you to provide some information, if you feel comfortable doing so, and then ask for your thoughts. You can submit in written, audio or video form. This is not a survey or a vote; instead it is a place to share your personal feelings and experiences in as raw or polished form as you like. I encourage our students and alumni, particularly, to share their own experiences as Rebels. Our committee will review each submission and use them as a basis for our dialogue. That information will be analyzed for themes and we will report back to the community what we hear, incorporating your words.
If you have questions, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, which my team will monitor and respond to when appropriate.
We will reflect what we’ve learned and look for opportunities to have this conversation as a community in whatever form the current pandemic will allow.
There will be some in our community who question the need to examine our school’s mascot at all. There will be some who question why we need to listen and don’t change it today. There are many who are conflicted, viewing the term one way for a lifetime but now learning about others’ viewpoints and wrestling with that disconnect. Well-intentioned members of the Freeman Family exist all along this spectrum; I know this because I’ve spoken with them. In the end I hope that we will listen to each other and engage in a dialogue that allows us to see others’ perspectives — a process which may have far-reaching positive effects beyond the name of a mascot. I honestly look forward to listening and engaging in this work as a community for the betterment of our kids.
I love Freeman. I love our deeply engaged school culture and our proud tradition of excellence and pride. I also love our students and want to make sure that the school community we are building is welcoming for every one of them, and that our symbols and language match our core beliefs as a school.
Sincerely and Respectfully,
Douglas Freeman High School