Division at a fork in the Rhodes

Submissions to rename school named after architect of apartheid due today


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Current students, staff, alumni and neighbours of Cecil Rhodes School in Winnipeg have until the end of the day Monday to submit a pitch for the elementary building’s future namesake.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/02/2022 (385 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Current students, staff, alumni and neighbours of Cecil Rhodes School in Winnipeg have until the end of the day Monday to submit a pitch for the elementary building’s future namesake.

The Winnipeg School Division is seeking potential titles that honour the theme of truth and reconciliation and do not belong to any historic figure or present-day person.

In order for a submission to be considered, participants must include their personal information, their relationship to the school, and the rationale behind their idea via the division’s survey. The poll will close at the end of the month, after two weeks of circulating in the division community and on social media.

“It is important to do this because I think the school name should deliver a sense of pride to students and staff, and the continued name of a white supremacist will hurt students,” said Jennifer Chen, a trustee who started raising concerns about the name of the K-9 school on Elgin Avenue in Weston around 21 months ago.

“There’s no pride in how much that hurts students and those who were impacted by apartheid.”

More than 1,700 people have signed an online petition, which was launched in June 2020 amid anti-Black racism protests across the world, in favour of renaming the school.

Chen said it was around that time she started hearing from concerned community members who wanted the division to cut ties with Cecil Rhodes (1953-1902).

Supporters argue WSD should not be honouring a former prime minister of what is now South Africa, whose ideas laid the groundwork for racist apartheid policies.

Rhodes, a British-born South African businessman and imperialist, founded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

Trustees approved a motion to start consulting with students, parents and community members on renaming the elementary school in October 2020. The division later launched a survey to gauge central Winnipeggers’ perspectives on the existing name.

The poll yielded mixed results, with only a slight majority of 55 per cent favouring change while 45 per cent were in support of the status-quo.

After reviewing the findings, the board of trustees overwhelmingly voted in May 2021 to officially start a lengthy renaming process that has led to the latest survey. A new name is expected to be in place before the 2022-23 academic year gets underway.

“A name change is a great start. I think it signals an openness and a starting place to make even more important shifts inside schools and towards more sustainable and more equitable teaching practices,” said Katya Adamov Ferguson, a PhD student at the University of Manitoba and educator in Winnipeg, who undertook a 2017 study on K-12 school names.

In Adamov Ferguson’s thesis study, she found a theme among building names in WSD: they often pay tribute to white European colonialists, missionaries and explorers who were men who lived between the 18th and 20th centuries.

Many major events — from the toppling of colonial statues to the discovery of unmarked graves belonging to Indigenous children — have taken place since 2017, she said, noting there is a culture shift happening when it comes to analyzing names, language revitalization, representation and critical thinking about what stories are told versus those that are “untold.”

Canada-wide outrage about the memorialization of Egerton Ryerson (1803-82), a teacher and Methodist church leader who was influential in designing and implementing the residential school system, recently prompted the Pembina Trails School Division to rename one of its buildings.

Following community consultations, the board in south Winnipeg unveiled the name Prairie Sunrise School.

Also in recent months, the WSD board committed to undertaking a divisional analysis of all names across the division, a project not unlike the one Adamov Ferguson completed five years ago.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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