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Native student received death threats over school mascot change suggestions

Fairfield Senior High School
Posted at 5:26 PM, Sep 08, 2021

FAIRFIELD, Ohio — Joelle Reid, a senior at Fairfield High School, put together a survey on her Instagram page full of new mascot ideas the school could implement instead of their current mascot: the Fairfield Indians.

In return, she received threats on her life.

"I expected a negative response, but I did not expect, like, the threats that I'm getting," said Reid. "And definitely not people calling me racial slurs."

Reid is Native American. Her contribution to a conversation surrounding Fairfield High's mascot isn't a new one — in 2020, a student-led group called Fairfield for Change began pushing for a rebranding of the mascot.

Since the group formed, it has created a solidarity statement honoring the tribes from the area.

"Calling people Indians isn't empowerment," said Reid. "I think that part of the reason why people think that it is, is because they claim that, well, it's calling you guys scary and cool, but it's not. I don't want to be scary and cool. I just want to be a person."

Reid was shocked by the flood of online threats and bullying she received after posting the survey to her social media page. She took those threats to the school district, which reacted immediately and said a school resource officer would be notified.

"Some of them have been like telling me to kill myself, or saying that they're going to kill me or sexually assault me and calling me racial slurs," said Reid.

Fairfield Schools' superintendent, Billy Smith, wrote in a statement that Reid's allegation is being taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.

While Reid was stunned by the violent response she received, Jheri Neri, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition, said he isn't surprised to hear it.

"Intimidation and those types of ploys, that's straight out of the handbook from like the 1950s Jim Crow era," said Neri. "And that is not who Cincinnati is."

Neri has worked with other local schools who've recently made the move to change their mascot names.

"The rest of the country and the rest of Ohio is making these changes," he said. "And it's important for Cincinnati not to be seen as one of those communities that continues to hold on to these things."

In August, two Ohio lawmakers introduced a resolution calling on schools across the state to retire the use of Native Americans for team mascots, following the formal change of Cleveland's baseball team from the Indians to the Guardians.