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River Falls School District responds to racism charge over new name

News River Falls,Wisconsin 54022 http://www.riverfallsjournal.com/sites/all/themes/riverfallsjournal_theme/images/social_default_image.png
River Falls Journal
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River Falls School District responds to racism charge over new name
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Naming rights for Meyer Middle School’s refurbished fitness room sparked a backlash on social media. The new name, a long one, was “Roger T. White Pride Fitness Room as presented by RCU” (Royal Credit Union.)

The River Falls Journal this week carried the story in print and online. Private fundraising for the project took in $100,000.

Rocky Branch Elementary School Principal Chuck Eaton, head of the fitness room’s fundraising group, was interviewed for the story. Near the end, he said the name would likely be informally shortened to “White Pride Fitness Room.”

The story was also picked up by FOX-TV in the Twin Cities. Social media comments began appearing, such as: “This is terrible. White pride? Which culturally insensitive committee let this slide? So much for building an inclusive community…”

Thursday morning, Jan. 28, River Falls School Superintendent Jamie Benson issued a press release to try to clarify the naming issue. He offered two naming alternative.

“To prevent any future misunderstanding, the fitness center will be named and referred to as the ‘Roger T. White Wildcat Fitness Room’ or the ‘Roger T. White Fitness Room as Presented by RCU.’”

Benson said the original name approved by the school board – Roger T. White Pride Fitness Room as presented by RCU – was meant to pay tribute to large financial gifts from Royal Credit Union and the White family. Over the years the White family has made sizable local gifts, including for land that become the White (Kinnickinnic) Pathway along Lake George.

Benson said the MMS fitness room will never be called The White Pride Room, not even informally.

“We can see and understand how the new name, ‘Roger T. White Pride Fitness Room’ could be viewed by some people as implying ‘white pride,’” Benson said. “Clearly that was never the intent of the community group, the White family, RCU, nor the school district.

“This is an opportunity to be very clear about our intentions and any related oversights by taking appropriate actions.”

Benson said the school district strives to be culturally aware and sensitive.

Despite the naming controversy, Benson said the dedicated work of the fundraising campaign to replace 20-year-old equipment in the middle school’s weight room can’t be overlooked.

“We now have better equipment and a more safe environment,” he said.

Not all social media comments were critical. One from the Journal’s Facebook page includes:

“Why is it people in this country feel the need to decide what others do and if they don't agree you're wrong or heck let's keep the ball rolling "you're a racist"! Because we have different opinions? Whatever happened to supporting something "the kids in this middle school" let us not forget. Also this man "Roger T. White" donated his own money, let me explain that he gave it away to others with little to no return on it!! And in part he was given the ability to have his name on it vs a business name like TCF stadium, USBANK or RCU. Let me ask those that don't agree with the name, "how much money did you donate to it?" I'm sure we all know that answer because it's easier to rant on Facebook than to actually get involved into something bigger than your own restricted thinking.”

You can share your thoughts on the naming controversy on our Facebook page.

Phil Pfuehler
Phil Pfuehler has been editor of the River Falls Journal since 1991.
(715) 426-1050
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