Bolstered by a newfound focus on social injustice, racial inequity and the Black Lives Matters movement, two sisters are behind an effort to change the name and mascot at Serra High School in Tierrasanta.
“We have everybody’s attention, everybody is thinking about this already,” said Emma Taila, 18, a Serra High graduate bound for Berkley.
“A lot of students surprisingly didn’t know the history of Serra and the Conquistadors and it’s really been an eye-opening experience for a lot of them,” said Charlotte Taila, 16, a student at Serra High.
Over the summer, the sisters sent a petition to students and alumni that gained traction over social media.
The information presented through the petition details the history of the school’s namesake Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, who came to the new world and converted natives to Christianity.
“His mission was to colonize them, which was to strip them of their culture and force them into Christianity,” said Dr. Erica Renfree, Ph.D., the school’s principal, who supports the sisters’ efforts.
Renfree also paints an unflattering picture of the school’s mascot, a Spanish soldier known as a Conquistador.
“About 250 soldiers came over and just completely annihilated so many different groups of people in order to conquer the new world,” Renfree said.
“We really felt that at this point in history, we have the support of students who are engaging with anti-racist ideology and action. They’re more accepting of change and really recognize the honestly brutal history that Spanish colonialism had on the place that we all live,” said Emma Taila.
Within the petition, students and alumni have been given choices for potential name changes for the school: Canyon Hills, Tierra Canyon, Serra (without the name Junipero), or no change.
The choice for new mascots are Bulldogs, Bobcats, or Rattlers.
The sisters say the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but there has been some negative feedback, which they say has come from older graduates.
“A lot of people are just saying we’re erasing history or this will never work, we’re happy with how it is,” said Charlotte Taila.
“If we’re going to say that Serra High School is a place for all students, then we have to have names and mascots in place that say all are welcome here,” Renfree said.
Renfree did not have an estimated cost for any future changes but said purchasing items such as new team uniforms, or replacing logos on the football field would be covered by the booster and other discretionary funds.
Renfree says votes gathered from the petition will soon be tallied, and the petition would then be sent to the district’s name change committee. Any changes in the school name and mascot could happen within months.