The board of the Coachella Valley Unified School District will hold a special meeting Friday to discuss a local high school's longtime official mascot, the "Arab," which has recently drawn criticism from a national civil rights group.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee urged Coachella Valley High School to eliminate the mascot -- a man with a large nose and heavy beard wearing a kaffiyeh, a traditional Arab head covering -- saying the school is perpetuating demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans, according to a Nov. 1 letter to the district superintendent.
At sporting events, a student dressed as the mascot makes an appearance with a woman dressed as a belly dancer performing next to him, and the mascot's face is featured prominently at the school's athletic facilities.
In a letter to the Desert Sun, district Supt. Darryl Adams wrote that the mascot, chosen in the 1920s, was “never meant to dishonor or ridicule anyone” and was designed to show respect for Middle Eastern cultures and crops grown in the Coachella Valley. However, he added, it is time to revisit the concept if the mascot is marginalizing a community.
“Times change, people change, and, subsequently, even symbols and words embraced for decades may need to be considered for change as well,” Adams wrote.
The mascot was adopted to recognize the importance of the date industry in the area, and "fit in perfectly with the neighboring towns of Mecca, Oasis, Arabia and Thermal," according to a description from the school's alumni association.
The Arab was originally drawn riding a horse with a lance and a turban, and has evolved throughout the years, according to the association.
The civil rights group said it understands the context in which the mascot was chosen, but those reasons are not justifiable in the 21st century. The Washington Redskins, for example, were named during a time when there was no racial tolerance, said Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the committee.
"We've moved forward in this country, we no longer live in those times and there needs to be an understanding of those minority groups," he said. "Respecting the heritage and paying homage to the heritage could be done in a way that is not offensive."
The organization ran the image of the Arab by other supporters to get a sense of how the community reacted when it first heard about the mascot, and the overwhelming opinion was that it was offensive, he said. The committee has also posted an online petition on its website calling for the school to reconsider the name, mascot and logo.
Adams, the school district superintendent, told The Times last week it was the first time he has heard criticism of the mascot in his 25-year career.
"I'm not sure the issue is the name as much as it might be the depiction of the mascot," he said.
The special meeting Friday was scheduled to provide board members with community input before a regular meeting Nov. 21, according to the superintendent's office. A decision on the matter is not expected at Friday's meeting.