Their mascot was called racist. These Seattle-area students voted to keep it | KUOW News and Information

Their mascot was called racist. These Seattle-area students voted to keep it

Jun 11, 2018

The Rebel remains.

Students at Juanita High School, in Kirkland, have voted overwhelmingly to keep their controversial mascot.

The final tally was 680 in favor of keeping the Rebel, 374 opposed.

Students had petitioned to remove the Rebel earlier this spring, calling it a racist symbol. Others countered that the mascot is a patriotic nod to the American Revolution — not white supremacy.

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But the Rebel is better known as a symbol of the Confederacy, a time when the Southern states fought for the preservation of slavery.

"It kind of broke my heart, honestly,' said Aiyah Smart, a 15-year-old freshman at Juanita High School who is black. 'It's like a pain that you can't take away."

Juanita’s students have embraced their mascot’s connection to the Civil War in the past. In the 1986 yearbook, a photo of a Juanita crowd waving the Confederate flag was used for the table of contents.

And in 1997, Juanita students yelled racial slurs at the predominantly black Garfield High School football team. This was the first year of a new athletic league that combined city and suburban teams.

At the game, several Juanita High School students showed up with the Confederate flag painted on their faces. The N-word was keyed onto a Garfield coach’s car.

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Juanita students went to Garfield to apologize — and invited Garfield students to their campus. An apology banner hung in the student center at Garfield with signatures from the Juanita student body.

But the white power symbolism persisted, because two years later, in 1999, the Juanita High School yearbook featured a senior having the stars and bars painted on his face before a football game.

'It kind of broke my heart, honestly,' said Aiyah Smart, a 15-year-old freshman at Juanita High School. 'It's like a pain that you can't take away.'
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Passionate Juanita alumni say they are disgusted by these images and what happened with Garfield. They are steadfast that the actions of a few do not represent all Rebels. On an alumni Facebook group page, they say they believe the Rebel name was misrepresented.

Elsewhere in the U.S., other high schools with the Rebel mascot have voted for a change.

A high school in Albany, Oregon, ditched the mascot after abandoning the Confederate flag and soldier also once used by Juanita. Students at a California high school also ousted their Rebel mascot last year.

Principal Kelly Clapp shared the vote outcome on Monday afternoon, according to a district statement, saying, “We will remain the Rebels. As we move forward next year, we will continue to work on what it really means to be a Rebel and be a part of the Rebel Family.”

The school district declined to comment further. 

The Lake Washington School District issued a statement with details about the vote Monday: “Students voted during homeroom period on Thursday, June 7, and absent students had the opportunity to cast their vote today. Scantron ballots were counted this afternoon, in the presence of a school administrator, two staff members and a student.”

On the alumni page, a man who identified himself as Brent Pakkala, a 1987 graduate, said he is a “white middle class male” who hasn’t experienced oppression.

“I have never been in the shoes of anyone ever being oppressed in any way, so for me to get upset over a mascot change would be shortsighted and simplistic,” Pakkala said.

“Yes, I get that the intent of the original mascot had nothing to do with any of the negative connotations, but as one poster stated, things change historically, and that maybe change is okay. It's similar to that racist old relative who people excuse by saying, ‘Well, that's just how they grew up.’ So, that doesn't make it okay.”