Breaking the Seal

The traditional seal of the town of Whitesboro, left, and UAlbany student Elizabeth Brigham's proposed replacement. 

ALBANY, NY (September 20, 2016) – When Elizabeth Brigham first read about the controversy surrounding the seal of Whitesboro, N.Y., in the Observer-Dispatch, she was confused.  Having been born and raised in the Oneida County village, she had been exposed to the history of the seal from a young age, and did not perceive anything wrong with it at the time.

“I grew up in the area, and I learned about the history of the seal when I was in elementary school,” Brigham, a 20-year-old junior studying communications at UAlbany, said. “So I knew about why it was there, what the story was, and never even really thought about it.”

The Whitesboro seal had long been a topic of debate over its perceived racial insensitivity. In it, the founder of the village, Hugh White, appears to be strangling a Native American man, which struck many as distasteful. Residents of Whitesboro know this image refers to an event from the town’s history, when White engaged in a friendly wrestling match with a member of the Oneida tribe.

“When I started reading these newspapers, I started hearing what people said, and then I took a better look at it, and I was like, you know, they kind of have a point,” Brigham said. “It doesn’t look appealing. It looks kind of rude to another race, to Native Americans.”

Brigham came to understand that despite the history, the seal could be seen as offensive. She decided that she ought to use her skills to help. Before transferring to UAlbany, Brigham had received an associate’s degree in graphic design from Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica. She decided to design a new seal that would represent Whitesboro without being offensive.

“I wanted to stray away from any controversy at all,” Brigham said, describing the inspiration for her design. “So, I kind of left the history to the side, and I thought, ‘OK, what could this town be? What could it be perceived as?’ And as someone who grew up there, there was always the scenery, which always captivated me.”

Elizabeth Brigham, UAlbany
Elizabeth Brigham, class of 2018, is studying communications at UAlbany. (Photo by Thomas Kika)

Brigham’s proposed seal depicts a scene from nature, with a river and pine trees in the foreground, and a mountain range in the back. In the sky are three birds, and the border contains two arrowheads, Brigham’s nod to the town’s history as Native American territory.

On January 11, 2016, Whitesboro held a public vote to decide whether to keep the old seal or to adopt a new seal, voting on several alternative designs, including Brigham’s and five offered by The Daily Show, a Comedy Central program that had been covering the seal controversy.

Brigham’s design was named runner-up in that vote, which ultimately resulted in the town keeping its original seal. But the story's not over yet.

“In the end the mayor requested I design the new seal which would be decided amongst the Hugh White decedents and the Oneida Indian Tribe,” Brigham said, in a blog post detailing her experience with the Whitesboro seal situation.

“It was definitely an experience to see that people actually cared about what I cared about,” Brigham said. “The town being viewed in a better perspective.”

In addition to her studies at UAlbany, Brigham is an orientation leader, a campus tour guide, a transfer peer mentor, a Project MyStory blogger, a blogger for The Odyssey, a member of the Toastmasters public speaking club, and a campus representative for Almafind, a forthcoming app that will allow students to find and learn about universities nationwide.

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