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Plans for mural of Syosset High School mascot cause controversy

Students and alumni at Syosset High School have

Students and alumni at Syosset High School have signed an online petition opposing a plan to paint the head of an American Indian, the school's mascot, in the parking lot. Credit:

A student group’s plan to paint an American Indian, the Syosset High School mascot, onto the school’s parking lot has been criticized by students and alumni.

The project was proposed by a group of students as a way to boost school spirit, according to student government president Carly Battipaglia.

Students planned to paint “Syosset Braves,” along with the bust of an American Indian in traditional garb, on the school’s parking lot two weeks ago, but postponed the project due to bad weather, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Syosset school district said plans for the mural were not brought to the attention of the administration and were never approved.

Last week, a petition began circulating online calling for the plan to paint the mascot, which is known as the “Syosset Brave,” to be stopped. It reads: “While school spirit is crucial to the social health of the school, Syosset should not degrade Long Island tribes by dehumanizing them to a mascot, equivalent to bulldogs and bears for other schools. A simple ‘S’ or scripted ‘Syosset’ would achieve the same purpose without appropriating another’s culture.”

Janvi Pamnani, a senior at Syosset High, created the online petition Oct. 27. It has since been signed by nearly 190 people and has sparked a discussion among students about whether it’s offensive to use the depiction of an American Indian as a mascot, Pamnani said.

“I think the idea for a school mural is great, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to include the depiction of a Native American,” Pamnani, 17, said, noting that American Indian groups have said using depictions of Native Americans as mascots is offensive. “It’s our responsibility to do the right thing and respect that.”

A student involved in the mural project declined to comment.

Several alumni also signed the petition criticizing the mural.

“It seems like a retroactive move, especially for a school like Syosset, which prides itself on being so inclusive of different cultures,” said Zach Hammer, a 2012 Syosset graduate who’s now a student at Brown University.

Sam Daniels, a graduate of the Syosset class of 2012, agreed. “I feel a responsibility to my community to speak up when I think there’s some kind of injustice. And I think the painting of the Brave mascot is very problematic,” said Daniels, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania.

Similar concerns have been voiced on the national level. Sports teams using American Indian names or images, such as the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, have in recent years been scrutinized by advocacy groups.

The student body government is planning to hold a forum Friday so students can discuss the mural, the district’s spokeswoman said.

“We believe there is value in allowing students to work through their differences, particularly on socially relevant topics, and we are confident that our students will have a thoughtful and mature discussion at the student government meeting,” the spokeswoman said.

Battipaglia said she’s aware of the controversy caused by the mural and has taken a “neutral stance” on the issue, and is looking forward to having a discussion about the project with her peers.

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