Fairfield student reports death threats after post about changing ‘Indians’ mascot

School officials immediately notified school resource officer to initiate investigation into allegations.

A Fairfield High School senior claims she has received death threats and racial slurs in the wake of her recent posting a social media survey regarding replacing the school district’s “Indians” mascot.

Fairfield High School officials said the student reported the alleged threats Wednesday and minutes later they immediately notified the high school’s security resource officer (SRO) to initiate an investigation.

According to reporting by the Journal-News’ media partner WCPO-TV, the female student – who said she is Native American – was shocked by what she said was the response to her online survey soliciting ideas for a different mascot.

“I expected a negative response, but I did not expect, like, the threats that I’m getting,” said Joelle Reid. “And definitely not people calling me racial slurs,” reported WCPO-TV.

Fairfield officials released a statement to the Journal-News: “Today (Wednesday), a complaint was shared with Superintendent Billy Smith via email at 11:12 a.m. Mr. Smith responded to the email at 11:17 a.m. and immediately contacted Dr. Bill Rice, the principal at Fairfield Senior High School, so that the allegation could be investigated.”

“Bullying behavior by any student/school personnel is strictly prohibited in our school district. As a result, any bullying allegation brought forward is taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. As a district, we are proactive in educating our students about harassment and bullying in an attempt to reduce or eliminate unacceptable and or harmful behaviors,” wrote school officials.

Fairfield Police did not respond to messages Thursday asking whether the department was involved in an investigation of the student’s claims.

Parts of the exteriors and interiors of many of the schools — including signage — in the 10,000-student school system feature an illustration of the mascot, depicting a warrior’s head adorn in a headdress worn centuries ago by some Native Americans.

The Fairfield school system was created in 1929 but the year of the incorporation of the Indians name and mascot are not known, said school officials.

Besides the mascot images, a life-size, carved in wood depiction of a statue of a Native American warrior stands in the high school’s main office — a gift from the Fairfield High School graduating class of 2009.

“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.”

School officials said: “Last year, the district began conversations with a student-led group (Fairfield for Change) at Fairfield Senior High School regarding how the district may honor the tribes from our particular area. Our focus moving forward has been to educate our students and community about those tribes. In addition, we have focused on how to truly honor them as well.

Our student leaders from Fairfield for Change have created the following Statement of Solidarity: “Fairfield City Schools are located on the ancestral homelands of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Osage, Myaamia (Miami), Shaawanaki (Shawnee) people, and the tribes of the Early and Middle Woodland periods.

“We pay respect to the indigenous peoples of the Fairfield community and offer this land acknowledgment to honor the tribes who lived before, the tribes today, and the generations to come. The Fairfield City School District is committed to an inclusive culture for all and aspire to create a culturally sensitive school community that recognizes our origins.”

Jheri Neri, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition, said he isn’t surprised to hear of such allegations.

“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 told WCPO-TV he 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.

(Journal-News’ media partner WCPO-TV contributed to this story)

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