HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - After a comprehensive review, Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County will be retiring its “Rebels” nickname.
A committee made up of community members, students and staff recommended the name change after looking at community input in June and July. The review process generated more than 2,000 comments.
School administration will now work with the community to choose a new nickname in the coming months.
“Following several months of listening, dialogue, and careful reflection with the help of a thoughtful and passionate committee, there is no need to wait,” said Douglas Freeman Principal John Marshall, in an email to the school community. “It is clear that now is the time to retire the ‘Rebels’ mascot, to leave it as a part of our history and not carry it into our future. We will adopt a new symbol that better represents our school as a forward-thinking, inclusive, welcoming place for all students.”
In the letter, Marshall says dropping the nickname was not a statement supporting that the rebel name was racist, adding that the best thing for the community to do now is to be united as a family.
“I think a lot of people are going to be upset over this. I also think there are more people that are going to be excited that we’re finally going to be able to move forward in history,” said student activist Holly Doustout.
The mascot retirement came off the heels of student-led protests at the high school by the group Henrico Justice, which Doustout helps organize. The rising junior says she is proud that the change was fueled by an outcry from students.
“This wasn’t a teacher thing, this wasn’t a parent thing, this was mainly student-lead and it’s really powerful for me to know that we have that much power in our hands,” said Doustout. “After the protests in May, it really kind of picked up attention again and a lot more people saw the error in the ways of calling Freeman the rebels.”
But the decisions were far from unanimous. According to the letter of response from the community, 60% were in favor of adopting a new nickname, 34% wanted to keep the rebel name while the remaining 6% were undecided.
“I think we’re going to have to take some steps to explain to people how other people felt,” said Doustout.
But Doustout says now is the time to be respectful of all opinions, it’s also a time for the school to come together.
“We’re going to need to come together and show that no matter what at Freeman, we say ‘we’re one big Freeman family.’ And regardless of whether we’re rebels or anything else we’re still the Freeman family,” said Doustout. “Now that a lot has changed we’re going to be taking much better steps forward, who knows what is next mascot might be?”
Once a new mascot is picked, the school will hold a “spirit-wear swap” where students can trade in Rebels gear for items with the new nickname.
Marshall also announced the creation of “Freeman Forward Fund,” which will “build school culture and support long-term efforts to promote inclusivity and innovation.” Donations to this fund can be made, HERE.
Henrico Schools isn’t the only division retiring Confederate-related names in the Central Virginia region. Hanover County Public Schools voted last month to change the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School, along with the mascots.
Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.