Florida State: Champions of Native American Racial Relations
DiBiasi, Michael T.
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CitationDiBiasi, Michael T. 2020. Florida State: Champions of Native American Racial Relations. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractAmerican high school, collegiate, and professional sports teams use Native American mascots and insignia. Oftentimes, the usage of these mascots has sparked intense debates about whether or not images schools and teams use are racially insensitive. Universities and professional teams have argued that their team names and mascots are honoring the tribes that once inhabited their respective lands, and that by showing these images they are respecting the history of Native Americans and ensuring that future generations do not forget the origins of our country. Those arguing against the use of these images claim that the universities and professional teams miss the mark; rather than honoring a group of people, they are subjugating Native Americans by depicting them as sideshow oddities and subhuman stereotypes.
The purpose of this thesis is to look directly at the Florida State Seminoles and explore how the university created positive racial relations with the Seminole tribe. Whereas other universities and teams struggle to reach and gain support from Native American tribes, Florida State has seemingly reset the debate because of the outspoken vocal support from the Seminole Tribe. In fact, the tribe donates authentic garb, instruments, and weapons to ensure the credible representation of Chief Osceola. Florida State, from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s struggled to have an identity. It began as a seminary school then it had an all-women’s branch before it became fully coeducational. It wasn’t until 1944 and the introduction of the G.I. Bill that the University began to shake the dysfunctional past to develop a new image. With the flood of former World War II soldiers coming into the University, the football program in particular began to take off. Florida State’s football program was no longer floundering to stay relevant, but rather flourished thanks in part to the creation of Chief Osceola and the Seminole nickname. From 1944, Florida State opened lines of communication to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, engaging them in all decisions on campus. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has final say on the images the University uses on campus as well as the statues placed around campus. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is invited to all campus events and helps create a curriculum for courses on Seminole history that undergraduates can attend. The relationship between the University and the Tribe was not born in vain or for the sole purpose of football. It’s what the Tribe stands for, their unconquered history and their unwavering pride during impossible odds. The Florida State University Seminoles chose to honor the Seminole people, but also what they stand for and their place in American history.
What makes Florida State’s relationship with the Seminoles different from other universities’ connections to their regional tribes? Why has Florida State succeeded while other universities and teams faltered? In our contemporary society, engagement in racial issues and racial discussions are extremely important, and the Native American Mascot Controversy is a microcosm of the much bigger debates engulfing our country. By looking at the Seminole Tribe’s influence on Florida’s political and legal landscape, as well as its close relationship to Florida State, what can we, as a country, learn to better improve race relations with Native American communities?
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