Is ‘Rebels’ racist? Heated debate over Kirkland’s Juanita High School mascot

Jul 8, 2020, 6:00 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2020, 6:30 am
Juanita, Kirkland Rebels...
In the 1980s the Juanita High School logo was changed to include Confederate accents (left) but it was changed back to the original eagle and mountain logo in the 1990s and remains that way today (right).

For the second time in two years, there’s a heated debate over whether Kirkland’s Juanita High School should remove its mascot: the Rebels. Many students and community members think it has racist associations because of the Confederate rebel soldiers that fought to maintain slavery during the Civil War. Others say that has nothing to do with the mascot.

“If you actually go to the Juanita High School website and look at the school’s history of the mascot, you’ll see that when the school opened in 1971, we chose the Rebel mascot to symbolize a break from tradition to go along with our open concept school, just as the 13 colonies broke from England,” said a Juanita High School student who wants to keep the Rebel mascot. “I think the confusion is that people always relate the Juanita Rebel mascot to the Confederacy when that is the farthest thing from the truth.”

The student asked to remain anonymous.

“Just because if I do come out and say that I support the mascot, people will say that I support racism, that I support white supremacy.”

Part of the problem is that the word “rebel” has multiple meanings. When students voted on the Rebel mascot in 1971, they associated it with rebellious behavior and the Revolutionary War. The school’s logo featured a mountain and an eagle.

But in the 1980s, the school changed the logo to an image featuring the same blue ‘X’ with white stars featured on the Confederate flag. The Confederate image was painted on school walls and printed in the yearbook. In 1990, they switched back to the original logo. But for some, the old connotations remain.

“I personally think we should change [the mascot],” said Ivan Maykov, who will be a junior at Juanita this fall. “Juanita is known on the Eastside to be kind of racist, really intolerant of a lot of ideas, and kind of the backwards school. That’s a really horrible reputation. A lot of students I’ve talked to feel really unsafe about going to a school where the mascot’s a southern term from the Confederate. Plus, it’s hard to be prideful at a school when the name is really anti-Black.”

In 2018, students circulated a petition to remove the mascot, but the majority of students voted to stick with the Rebels. But with today’s social justice movement brewing, the issue has resurfaced. And this time around, the school board will make the final decision.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘If you don’t support changing the mascot, you’re racist,'” Maykov said. “But I don’t really feel like that’s true. Yes, it’s racially charged, but maybe you just don’t really know a lot. We don’t actually go over U.S. history or anything about the Confederacy until junior year. Basically half the school doesn’t really know what it is, which is really sad.”

I asked two anonymous students why keeping the Rebel mascot is so important to them.

“Just graduating as a Juanita Rebel. My mom graduated as a Rebel, my brother graduated as a Rebel. So now I’m just looking forward to continuing the family history of graduating from Juanita High School as a Rebel.”

“We’re both second generation Rebels, and we’ve been Kirkland residents all our lives,” said another anonymous student. “So we just want to fight to keep the current Rebel mascot.”

It’s not just current students who are upset. An alumni group on Facebook is overflowing with sometimes vicious arguments about the mascot. Mary Manning graduated from Juanita in 1977. She recognizes that the school’s old Confederate logo was wrong, but says there is nothing racist about the current mascot.

“That is not the definition of a rebel,” Manning said. “A rebel is a person that rebels against anything. A teenager rebels against their parent, the women who fought against getting our rights so that we could vote was a rebel. To say a rebel is a Confederate army officer is all in a definition. So I’m willing to fight for the right to use the word rebel because anything can be turned around as a definition. To sit there and say rebel is racist is wrong. I’m one of the first to say that, especially since my family is so interracial. Why are we being so politically correct that we have to remove the word rebel just because somebody else is offended by it?”

Tracie Wilhelm is a Juanita High School PTSA member and has two children attending the school. She says a mascot that must be explained and creates this much confusion should be removed.

“Our school is sort of this little red, white, and blue microcosm of the entire United States right now,” Wilhelm said. “We have this contentious mascot, very strong feelings. It’s really an explosive situation. I think that being in quarantine has only exasperated that. It’s very easy to miscommunicate online.”

The Lake Washington School Board will make its decision by the end of July. The board denied requests for an interview.

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Is ‘Rebels’ racist? Heated debate over Kirkland’s Juanita High School mascot