By MICHELLE L. PRICE and SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers are considering legislation that would require schools to get rid of racially discriminatory logos and mascots and require officials to push for the renaming of mountains, trails or any other geographic points with racially offensive names.
The bill, which was scheduled to have its first hearing Tuesday afternoon, comes in the wake of a national reckoning over race that’s led to school and professional sports teams dropping their mascots and activists and officials pushing to rename streets, peaks and other places that glorify the Confederacy or make offensive references to Native Americans.
“I think it’s clear to many people that we have a complicated and conflict-filled racial history in this country and in Nevada. One of the lingering legacies of that is in our language and in the names that we use for a lot of things,” said Assemblyman Howard Watts, a Democrat from east Las Vegas, who is sponsoring the legislation.
Watts’ proposal would require public school districts and charter schools to adopt policies barring the use of racially discriminatory names and symbols and would require the Nevada State Board of Geographic Names to recommend that their federal counterparts rename any geographic features and places that have offensive names.
Watts said his proposal is continuing a reevaluation of names and symbols Nevada has already started to see in recent years.
In 2019, a peak in Great Basin National Park named for Confederate President Jefferson Davis was renamed to Doso Doyabi, a Shoshone-language phrase that means White Mountain.
More recently, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas retired its “Hey Reb!” mascot, described the school as “a cartoonish figure modeled after the western trailblazers of the 1800s” that Native American students and others had called for the school to retire.
A statue of the mascot was removed from the campus last summer amid racial justice protests around the country and in January, UNLV announced it would retire the mascot but keep the school’s Rebels nickname, despite its roots in Confederate imagery.
UNLV was founded in 1957. The mascot was created in the late 1960s, originally named “Beauregard,” after a Confederate general in the Civil War. It was renamed “Hey Reb!” in 1982, years after the school removed Confederate logos but kept the Rebels nickname.
Watts, a UNLV almunus, said the removal of the “Hey Reb!” statue prompted him to include in his bill a measure allowing the Board of Regents to adopt a policy barring offensive names and symbols at universities and colleges.
But Watts told the Associated Press he’s reconsidering that after UNLV warned it would force the school to retire the Rebels nickname at a cost between $11.6 million to $16.9 million over five years.
“I’ve had a meeting with UNLV to listen to their concerns and I’m working to try and address them in the legislation,” Watts said.
Sabra Smith Newby, the Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at UNLV, said the school’s interpretation of the name Rebels “is that it is a spirit of non-conformance, of testing the boundaries, of innovating, and that is a spirit that we wish to continue.”
Watts’ proposal does not include funding to help schools and districts pay for the changes.
In a budget impact report provided by the Clark County School District, district officials estimated about 20 out of 336 schools would need to undergo rebranding for a total cost of nearly $1.4 million, though the district did not provide details on which schools or what symbols would be required to be dropped.
In a similar report, the Humboldt County School District in northern Nevada said Winnemucca Junior High would need to brand its Warriors mascot, which would involve redoing the basketball floor and replacing murals, but the school said it was not able to estimate the cost at this time.
Price reported from Las Vegas. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.