Protests, petitions, and public outcry after Cowboy mascot removed

The Board's vote was unanimous, but some students have voiced their opposing opinions on social media –– and through protesting.

Pascack+Hills+students+attend+a+protest+in+the+school%E2%80%99s+parking+lot+to+speak+out+against+changing+the+Cowboy+mascot.+

Sam Schatz

Pascack Hills students attend a protest in the school’s parking lot to speak out against changing the Cowboy mascot.

In a decision made on Monday, June 22, the Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education voted to remove the Indian mascot of Pascack Valley and the Cowboy nickname of Pascack Hills. 

Although there is no word yet on what the mascots will be changed to, the Board of Education said the mascot change came from the fact that the names were “not in-line with the district goal of equity and inclusivity.” The decision was unanimous, but some students have voiced their opposing opinions over social media, with fake accounts such as @pascacksnowflakes cropping up and commenting on social media posts by the Trailblazer and Pascack Valley’s Smoke Signal newspaper. 

@pascacksnowflakes, a burner Instagram account created after the Board removed the Cowboy and Indian mascots at Hills and Valley.

These accounts are used anonymously for students to express their displeasure with the change, but there are people speaking out who aren’t hiding behind a screen. A petition started by Hills student Giovanni Giacomarro to keep the Cowboy mascot has over 2,100 signatures from various students and members of the community, and it is gaining momentum. 

“First and foremost, I can see how the mascot of Pascack Valley, the Indian, can be taken as racist or discriminatory,” said Giacomarro. “However, changing the mascot of Pascack Hills is completely unnecessary. If the first point is that the two names together make a resemblance of a bad time in our country, remove the offensive one (the Indian) and there will be no correlation.” 

When asked to comment on the reasoning for his petition, Giacomarro said, “I created the petition in order to give the additional people that have a relationship with the school (student body, alumni, etc.) a voice on a decision that did not include them, but affected them directly. Decisions such as these should be all inclusive.”

The petition is titled “Keep the Cowboys,” as Giocamarro explained that “if the first point is that the two names together make a resemblance of a bad time in our country, remove the offensive one (the Indian) and there will be no correlation.” He said it would be ignorant to look at that time period alone as a “representation of cowboys.”

In a petition comment, a Hills student explained a similar reason for signing, stating that “the Cowboy can stand alone.” The anonymous poster went on to state that a large number of real-life cowboys were actually minorities, a statistic supported by a University of Washington review that estimates about a quarter of cowboys in the 19th century were Black. Many community members argued that this fact is forgotten by the media.

Going by this logic, the Cowboy is inclusive of minorities and the mascot should stand. However, Charleen Schwartzman, the incoming assistant principal for the 2020-21 school year, believes differently. 

The Cowboy is in no way free of bias, as it excludes women and people of color,” Schwartzman said in the board meeting. “Let’s choose a mascot that we can all be proud of.” 

Even amidst the media backlash from people who are against the change, some are of the belief that changing the Hills mascot is just as necessary as changing the Valley one, and that one can’t be changed without the other. 

“While I love being a Pascack Hills Cowboy, I am in support of the removal of the mascot,” said Aria Chalileh, a member of the Pascack Hills cheerleading team. “I believe that we can choose a mascot that is more representative of district values, allowing us to move towards a more inclusive school environment.” 

Chalileh is a rising senior, meaning that the decision may not affect her, as the Board has stated that they will spend the “coming year” to consider feedback from “students, staff, and community members” and decide on new mascots for both schools. However, Chalileh fully supports the removal of the mascot, taking a stand with the Board of Education. 

Another member of the student body, Raymond Rosales, also contributed his thoughts. As a bowler, Rosales is just one of many students who have competed under the previous Cowboy mascot and moniker, but he fully supports the change. 

“If a school mascot is that integral to your personal identity, you need to deeply reconsider the path your life is taking. The amount of times I’ve said the word ‘Cowboys’ referring to our sports teams pales in comparison to the amount of times I’ve said ‘Hills Pride’.” 

Rosales went on to defend the Board of Education, stating that “the reason we have a Board of Education in the first place is to make sure we have people who know what they are doing. They are to be relied upon when we need good judgment, which is the case here.” 

A protest against changing the Cowboy mascot sprang up in Hills’ parking lot on June 23, less than 24 hours after the Board’s vote. Students decked in Cowboy gear –– most without masks –– gathered to express their displeasure, creating signs and chanting. 

Signs like “Defund the BOE” and “Trump 2020 – Make Hills Great Again” were received negatively by some students who referenced the current social climate. After George Floyd, a black man, was killed by white police officers, some have used the slogan “Defund the Police” in support of police reform. 

On social media, recent Hills graduates including Shariany Then criticized a Hills parent’s Facebook post promoting the protest that said “Bring your flags and chalk for the parking lot… just like they did for black lives matters.” Then responded by saying, “don’t compare a protest about a mascot to a [Black Lives Matter] protest. It’s not the same in any way.”

While some at Hills focus on protesting the mascot, the Hills-Valley equity team is seeking to continue supporting the Black Lives Matters movement in its fight for justice for those wrongfully murdered by cops. The team of Hills and Valley students is now planning a protest march in coordination with Hills alumni in Woodcliff Lake this Saturday.

Whether students support the mascot change or not is irrelevant –– it may be time for the Hills community to take a step back and reevaluate where it wants to go as a district and how it wants to get there.