MERIDEN — It was Friday morning in Roy Stout’s graphics technology class at H.C. Wilcox Technical High School. His students had been immersed in a rebranding project for a client that involved designing a new logo.
The client who is rebranding? Their own school. That’s because last summer, officials at Wilcox, which is part of the Connecticut Technical High School System, began the process of retiring the Indians as the school’s mascot, and replacing it with a new one.
That process began after state lawmakers’ voted on a state budget implementer bill that included a provision to withhold local aid from tribal gaming revenues from municipalities whose mascots are associated with Native Americans.
That bill did not list the CT Tech System as a recipient of gaming revenues. Still, officials have decided the time has come for a new nickname and mascot.
So earlier this month, Wilcox’s leaders announced a short list of potential nicknames. Some of them are alliterative, like Wolves, Wildcats, Woodchucks or Whalers. Others give a nod to the school’s trade programs and its proximity hiking trails: Lightning and Trailblazers. The school asked community members to help by picking their favorite nickname in a survey available online through the school’s website https://wilcox.cttech.org/.
That survey will be open through Nov. 19. The following Monday, officials have planned a forum during which they will unveil the results of that survey. The forum will take place that evening, 6 p.m., at the school. Officials also hope the forum will provide an opportunity to have a productive conversation around the use of mascots that Native American leaders in Connecticut and nationwide have long stated promote stereotypes and misrepresent native cultures.
“Wilcox Tech has heard from various stakeholders regarding making a change to the Indian mascot and it is clear the time has come. The mascot name and imagery are insensitive to the Native American community and its continued use is not representative of the culture of inclusion, respect, and understanding that Wilcox Tech strives to foster,” Wilcox principal Stacy Butkus stated in a letter to the school community.
Butkus, in that letter, stated Wilcox leaders understand some school community members may have “strong opinions about the change and we look forward to having productive conversations that will help make our community stronger and more welcoming.”
Lori Potter, public affairs director for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, in a statement to the Record-Journal said the nation opposes use of any and all Native American nicknames, mascots and imagery except when schools and sports teams have received the “written consent” of tribes located in the same geographic region of those schools and teams.
“...the MPTN calls for an end to the wide-ranging appropriation of Native American-related imagery, culture, and names in all manner of commercial settings that continue to promote stereotypes, misrepresent Native culture and create lasting harm for tribal nations and their citizens,” Potter wrote.
Graphics Technology students who spoke with the Record-Journal expressed excitement about Wilcox adopting a new nickname, which many of them had wanted, and designing a new logo. They unveiled some visual ideas for potential mascots.
Haley Pericozzi, one of those students, was working on a “Wolves” mascot, as were a few of her classmates. Because that nickname and the school’s name both begin with “W” — the pairing has a nice flow, Pericozzi explained.
The school’s colors — blue and yellow — will not change.
Emma Quinn, a fellow senior, unveiled a sketch of a potential woodchuck mascot. Its cheeks were puffed as it blew a whistle. She sketched it out, piece by piece, on the computer in front of her.
“They’re also called whistle pigs,” Quinn said of the woodchuck. That is because they will whistle to warn fellow woodchucks of nearby danger.
Quinn said she didn’t want an overly aggressive mascot and she finds the woodchuck to be appealing.
“I would want that on a sweatshirt,” she said.
“I like how we’re changing the mascot,” Quinn added, while noting, “as a senior, it’s not going to affect us really. But it would be interesting to see what it comes out to be.”
Butkus, meanwhile, favored a Lightning mascot.
“I love the Lightning,” Butkus said to Stout’s students, while noting she wasn’t trying to influence the process. “I thought when the teams entered the gym we could play thunder [over the speakers],” she said, envisioning the Wilcox “WT” logo adorned with a lightning bolt. “We’re bright. We’re shocking.”
Stout explained students in his class are following a rebranding process comparable to that in the advertising and marketing industries. They’re starting with thumbnails and rough images, which they will develop into more comprehensive designs.
Group thinking will follow. Then potential designs will be posted on his classroom’s whiteboard to gather input.
“And from there we will kind of weed stuff out and will modify a few things to make it better. We will go through another revision and keep working it like they would do in an advertising agency or marketing firm,” Stout said.
As of Friday morning, Wilcox had received more than 1,600 responses to its survey. The early favorites appear to be the Wolves and the Woodchucks.
Mallory Kroher, another Graphics Technology senior, was working on a Wolves design that incorporated gradients of the school’s colors. She started it off like she does with every design — with a transparent background. Then she will assemble the wolf using different gradients of Wilcox’s blue and yellow.
While Kroher’s class is the group designing a new mascot, she has learned from friends who are Wilcox alumni that they’ve long wanted a new mascot.
“And it’s nice to hear that it’s changing,” Kroher said.
William Balch, head of Wilcox’s automotive department, would agree.
“I think it’s about time,” he said, adding his preferred nickname is the Wolves.
Wilcox's mascot survey can be found at: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1zuEkK8vFt55RVa4I3pYfUTk05EVVyZk5etaKopj434Y/edit?usp=sharing_eil_m&ts=6177f8c7.