District 215 Board votes to dissolve TF South “Rebels” Nickname

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The "Rebel" name is printed in massive letters above TF South's front office. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Student-driven process receives unanimous board approval

Information provided by TF District 215

LANSING, Ill. (August 26, 2020) – At its August 25 regular monthly meeting, the Thornton Fractional District 215 Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to dissolve the Thornton Fractional High School nickname “Rebels.” The resolution states, “Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 is committed to an overall culture of equity with the guiding principle of learning environments that are welcoming, positive and inclusive, where all students and stakeholders feel a sense of belonging and purpose in school.” It goes on to acknowledge that the TF South nickname “Rebels” originated from a reference to the Confederacy, and notes that “imagery associated with the Confederacy has racist connotations.”

A student-driven decision

“Richie Rebel” was TF South’s mascot until the mid-2000s. (Graphic: tfsclassof69.weebly.com, original artist unknown)

The District 215 Board of Education voted at their June regular meeting to survey TF South students on whether they “support changing the school nickname to something other than ‘Rebels.’” The survey question sent to students included an introductory message from Principal Jake Gourley, who noted that it is a time in our nation when attention is being called to brand names and team names that “have historically racist origins or connotations.” Gourley shared that when TF South was founded in 1958, the pun was that the “South” had seceded from the “North” campus, and the imagery adopted by the new Thornton Fractional South campus was that of a Confederate soldier, the Confederate battle flag, and the nickname “Rebels.” It was also noted by Gourley that the Confederate flag was removed in the mid-1990s and the Confederate soldier mascot was eliminated by the mid-2000s.

The survey was sent to all active TF South students, which included the sophomore, junior, and senior classes of 2020-21, and each student received an individualized link to respond to ensure accurate results. Of the students surveyed, 325 students responded, or approximately 25%; and of those who responded, 69.5% supported changing the name to something other than “Rebels.”

“If not now, when?”

When asked why the Board of Education decided to act on this issue, board member Richard Dust stated, “With everything happening in our country at the present time it definitely seemed to me the time was right to consider this question. If not now, when?” The issue of dropping the nickname was initially raised in 2017 when a TF South student, Mia Pettigrew, wrote an essay for her Government class arguing that the name “Rebels” should be eliminated, and then sent the essay to Dr. Creg Williams, who was the superintendent at that time.

At the July 25, 2020 Board of Education meeting, Vice-President LeeAnn Revis shared that eliciting student participation in the decision-making process was an “equity-informed decision” because it allowed the students to take ownership of the process rather than have the board make the decision without any input from the students. Revis said at the August 26 meeting, “I’ve actually had other schools around the country reach out to me and ask me about our progress and how our survey went because they’re endeavoring to do the same thing at their schools.”

Last month, the Board of Education adopted an Equity Plan of Action and a resolution on racial justice and voted to establish an Equity Student Leadership Club as part of ongoing equity initiatives in the district. Documents and further information detailing the equity initiatives found above can be found on the District 215 website at https://www.tfd215.org/aboutus/commitment-to-equity/.

Dr. Sophia Jones-Redmond, superintendent of District 215, said that a conversation regarding the process for adopting a new nickname for TF South will most likely begin at the Board of Education’s September Committee of the Whole meeting.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I honestly feel that this is an injustice does the Legacy of the alumni who attended the school.

    It is my opinion that Rebel Pride is having pride in being a Difference Maker, in being a person who looks for change, who fights for the greater good, I don’t think in the history of the school anyone ever intended the name to Ever represent anything negative.

    Racism and hatred and oppression is disgusting, it’s time to change the narrative instead of beckoning to pressure.

    Instead of changing the name we could have changed the narrative and used the rebel phrase to represent the good things to represent the change makers, those who went against the flow.

    Rebels like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X these people were Rebels these people were difference makers these people were people who challenged the system for the better.

    Change the narrative

    • I’m an alumna too and I do not feel any injustice was done to me. It would be interesting to know whether many of the alumni who might feel the way you do still live in the community and support the students and the school. If we alumni are concerned with our Legacy, we should be donating toward scholarships and infrastructure for the school. OR, we should be out there making a difference in the world for the good and citing our TFS roots. There are other ways to preserve and build a legacy outside of keeping a nickname that is hurtful (whether intentional or not) to others. I think that hospitality goes a long way. Changing the name is a way to extend hospitality to our students and families of color entering the community and the school. I hear your point that ‘rebel’ could mean other things, but the practicality of the matter is that it just doesn’t and won’t for the majority of students at TFS.

    • The school has been doing exactly as you suggest, “changing the narrative” and emphasizing the good connotations of “rebels” for many years now. When the school was founded in 1958, the American society as a whole was preparing to celebrate the centennial of the Civil War. It was on everyone’s mind. Our class gift in 1965 was a collection of Civil War memorabilia, which now is kept in the Lansing Historical Museum. The Civil War was taught as being about “states rights” more than slavery. Times have evolved and hopefully America is finally reckoning with the lasting impact of slavery. So now the time is right to rethink the name. Our focus must be on the current and future students. We alumni can keep our memories and hope that the current and future students will be making good memories for themselves.

  2. Not sure why we are so enamored with school nicknames. Doesn’t the actual name evoke sufficient identity in one’s school? What endears one to be a “Redbird”? Why would someone want to be identified as a “Husky”? Sounds like a size. Back in the day, I was an Illiana Christian Viking – one would be hard pressed to to find Christians and Vikings to be anything but mutually exclusive. A “Cougar” means something much different now than it did 15 years ago. I can look up the meaning of “Pioneer”, “Minuteman”, or “Bear” on Urban Dictionary.com, and I’m not sure any school nickname will pass muster in a polite society. Trojans – oh, dear.
    Maybe schools should just task themselves with some kind of educational goal instead of assuming that a nickname will brand their students with some super power or quality.

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