Ramsey Middle School aims for new name


In recent years, momentum has been building at Ramsey Middle School to change their name to stop honoring Alexander Ramsey, a Minnesota governor who called for the extermination for the Dakota people along with other violent acts. “There are new heros here, there are new namesakes that we can be looking to,” explained visual arts teacher and director of equity at Ramsey, Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl. Photo: Evie Murphy-Wilson

Livia Lund and Soline Van de Moortele


For 85 years, Ramsey’s building has existed as a high school, elementary school, even an art school. The building now hosts a 5-year old middle school, a school that has gained traction over the past few months because of one factor: Its name.

Alexander Ramsey, a Minnesota governor from 1860-1863, was known for his discrimination and violence against Native Americans, specifically the Dakota(Sioux). As a result of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, 38 Dakota men were hung in Mankato, the largest mass hanging in United States history. The original number sentenced to hang was 303. In a speech to the legislature Ramsey stated; “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State.” After the war, bounties from the government were given for any Dakota scalps turned in.

Paul Sommers, a sixth grade teacher at Ramsey, explained: “In the five years we’ve been here, each year the issue of Ramsey’s name gets more and more like ‘why do we have this name if that guy did that,’ so this year it seemed like there’s more traction to that angst about Ramsey’s name.”

Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl, a visual arts teacher as well as the director of equity at Ramsey explained “We started talking about the name even then saying ‘you know, we’re not comfortable with this name’ but because we’re a brand new school there were so many things we had to tackle just to get kids in the front doors and have things go smoothly, that changing the name would just seem like ‘we can’t handle this now too,’”

She continued to explain that while they weren’t actively protesting against the name, the demand to have a new name gained popularity as students and staff became more aware about its history: “As people learn about Ramsey and as our students are coming to us and asking, ‘why is our school named after this person,’ and I think more and more staff have learned about Alexander Ramsey through our students’ education.”

The movement to change the name first really started during “Back to School Night” of the 2016-2017 school year when 8th grader Olivia Bordon wore a Ramsey Middle School shirt with “rename” written across the top. Borden and her friends passed out “Rename Ramsey” stickers to teachers and people at the event. Support grew and eventually a group of students began meeting every Monday during lunch. Since these first meetings, community gatherings have happened, and many more name suggestions have been discussed and nominated.

While the movement has gained support through the school and out, there is still some pushback. Bordon gave examples of some she’s heard: “Just the usual: too much money, too much work, we’ve been Ramsay so much, what difference is it gonna make.” However, a more common argument to have come up is ‘It was a different time,’ and that what Ramsey said was acceptable in the 19th century.

Bordon recognized this argument, but disagreed with it: “Just because it was okay then doesn’t mean it’s okay now. We have very different standards today…the Dakota people didn’t think what he was doing was okay.” Cedarleaf Dahl concurred, saying: “We have students walking through these doors that are descendants of the people who [Ramsey] was offering money for their scalps.”

However, the process for changing a public school’s name is far from simple. In 1987, Southwest high school’s changed their mascot from “The Indians” to “The Lakers” but Ramsey is one of the first schools to attempt to change their name due to controversy reasons. “Currently, [the school board] doesn’t really have a policy on what to do if it’s a name change based off of controversy.” Cedarleaf Dahl explained. “We are trying to figure out what we need to do to show that this is really real and that people want this.”

On January 28th, Ramsey Middle School hosted a 6-hour panel, with parents, staff, students, and a historian from the Minnesota Historical Society, and narrowed down 23 potential names to a list of 5. On February 10th students will vote on which of these names they liked best, and then if they like that name better than “Ramsey”.  The next step will be passing those recommendations to the SITE council, which will then make a recommendation to superintendent Ed Graff, who will then make a recommendation to the school board, who would potentially vote sometime in June. At any point during this process, a group could vote no.

Despite this uncertainty, the students and staff are hopeful in getting a name that will fit this new school and it’s values better. “There are new heros here, there are new namesakes that we can be looking to,” explained Cedarleaf Dahl.  Currently some potential candidates are musician Prince and mathematician Dorothy Vaughn.