Friday, October 25, 2013

Yet another town, another school, forever changed

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. These seemingly wonderful places to live and go to school are now names associated with horrendous acts of violence – so much so that we no longer think of them as towns or schools, but as crime scenes. The memories of what happened there can never be washed away.
All of these school tragedies upset me, just as they upset most people in our nation. But they were always far away; I knew in my head that it could happen anywhere, but I never truly believed it would happen just anywhere – I never thought it would happen in my “where.”
Until it did.
On October 22, a 14-year-old student brutally murdered his 24-year-old teacher at Danvers High School. My town. My high school.
I didn’t know Colleen Ritzer, but I wept for her; for the pain she went through and the confusion she must have felt. I wept for her family, and I wept for the children of the town where I had a picturesque childhood, who are forever changed.  
This horrific event is confusing and unimaginable. This is something that happens on a TV crime drama, not at your own high school. The crime occurred in the second floor bathroom, where I was hundreds of times – that was the “good” bathroom, the one that wasn’t full of smoke or too hot or too cold. She was discarded in the woods right behind the school, onto the trail I ran a hundred times. It isn't just close to home – it is home. When horror occurs in your own backyard, it shakes you to your core; it affects you and changes you.
The people of Danvers are hurt, confused, shocked and angry. We’re hurt because when we grew up Danvers was a town where you didn’t even lock your doors; we had very little fear for our safety, especially when we were at school. We’re confused, shocked and angry because, well, this isn’t supposed to happen here.
Photo from the Candle Light Vigil held for Colleen Ritzer at Danvers High School, Oct. 23. Hundreds showed up to honor and remember the slain math teacher.
But I think that’s the scariest part of all of this; in Columbine, Blacksburg and Newtown before us, no one thought something so awful would ever happen in their town. Then it does, and you're forever scarred.
Just as those places were, our town and everyone in it is forever changed. There is a wound that will eventually scab over and heal, but it will leave behind a scar that never completely goes away. We’ll always be “the town where the teacher was murdered.”
Colleen Ritzer was known for her infectious smile, her friendly nature and her love of math. She was the epitome of what a young teacher should be -  excited to teach. On her Twitter feed, she wrote math jokes, encouraging messages and inspirational quotes. She described herself as a "Math teacher often too excited about the topics I'm teaching."

An inspirational quote posted by Ritzer on her Twitter feed

A beloved teacher, gone in such a gruesome way, before she really had a chance to live. 
Every time I drive by my high school, my first thought won’t be the great memories I amassed there of my lifelong friends and the teachers who affected my life in the way I’m sure Ms. Ritzer affected lives, but what happened Oct. 22, 2013. Danvers High School is no longer where I had track meets, soccer games or band practice – it will forever be where THIS happened. In the aftermath of such a horrendous crime, we’re left to pick up the pieces and try to go on.
It seems like they caught the assailant, and he’ll be locked away. But the damage caused by what he did … well, that will never go away.
No one will ever look at Danvers High School the same. One life was taken; another thrown away when a teenager gave into his barbaric impulses. The innocence of thousands of students around the community was shattered. Those of us who aren’t students anymore are left with a little more fear than we had a few days ago. I, for one, feel a little less safe in every day life than I did before this happened; before I learned what people are capable of.
But I know my town; Danvers is full of good, hard-working people and it will overcome this tragedy. The community will grieve together and band together to heal. We are forever changed, forever scarred, but we will heal – but we won't forget. We will be strong to honor Colleen Ritzer.

Danvers High School students returned to school Friday, Oct. 25 - three days after the murder of a math teacher on school grounds. They were greeted by a quote posted by that teacher, Colleen Ritzer, on her Twitter feed. "No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind."

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Redskins" isn't historical - it's distasteful

During last night's Redskins-Cowboys Sunday Night Football broadcast, Bob Costas did a commentary regarding the name of the Washington Redskins. Here is a link to the transcript :

The debate over whether or not teams should change their Native American mascots has been going on for years. Many schools and franchises have opted to make the switch, including the University of Massachusetts Minutemen (a much better fit than the Redmen) and St. John's University Red Storm (prior to 1994 they were also the Redmen), while others, including the Redskins and Cleveland Indians, remain steadfast in their approval of their names. Some teams, including the Florida State Seminoles, have chosen to keep their name because the Seminole tribe has given their approval. However, the difference between calling a team "Seminole" or "Sioux" or "Blackhawks" is vastly different than "Redskins" or even "Indians." The former are accurate names of a people; the latter are inaccurate terms once used to describe a race by an uninformed majority and therefore should not be used as the names of sports teams.

Owner Dan Snyder sent out an email last week to Washington fans, telling them why he believes his team should keep the name "Redskins." In it, he writes: "The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." In the email, Snyder is trying to gain support for one of the major arguments against changing the Redskins moniker which is, "most Native Americans aren't offended by it." To that I say phooey. I am not all about the "PC movement," but I don't agree with using derogatory terms as names of sports teams just because it's been that way for so many years. If a team was called the "Washington Crackers," even though I might not be personally offended as a white person, I would still not agree with the name, because it is a derogatory term about a specific race.

Native American Steve Morales, of Dallas, holds up a sign that reads "Redskin does not honor Native People", as he joins others in protest outside of an NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, October 13, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The term "redskin" was never a term of affection, and therefore using it as a team name is no longer OK. Just because the team has had its name since 1933 doesn't mean they should get to keep it. Today, using the term "redskin" in any way other than referring to the Washington football team is seen as taboo and derogatory. For that fact alone, the name "Redskins" must change. 

Photo from  Verlin Deer In Water, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma shows his t-shirt during an interview in Washington, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, calling for the Washington Redskins NFL football team to change its name, prior to the start of the Oneida Indian Nation's Change the Mascot symposium. During an interview, President Barack Obama suggested that the owner of the Washington Redskins football team consider changing its name because, the president said, the current name offends "a sizable group of people." (Carolyn Kaster)
I am 30, and growing up we called Native Americans "Indians." However, the times have changed and "Indian" now refers to the people who are actually from India. Calling Native Americans "Indians" is not only offensive, it is completely inaccurate. Many people of an older generation can't get used to this change, but just because they don't want to change or don't agree with it doesn't mean the change isn't right. I liken it to referring to any Asian person as "Chinese," any Hispanic person as "Mexican," or any Eastern European as "Russian" – you may not mean to offend, but you are affronting those you are calling the wrong nationality.

Calling a Native American an "Indian" or a "redskin" is no longer "OK" in our society, and to still use those terms as the moniker for a sports team is distasteful and just plain wrong.