In 2007, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) officially retired its mascot, Chief Illiniwek, from the field due to pressure from the NCAA. In 2010, the “chief” continues to dance on campus and his presence is continually felt on campus, kept alive by a registered student organization known as Students for Chief Illiniwek. The “chief” symbol has long been a politically charged issue on the UIUC campus, perpetuating a hostile racial campus climate. Additionally, it continues to divide the campus and does not allow for students to unite around a non-offensive mascot.
Prior to the “chief's” retirement in 2007, the university was unwilling and reluctant in taking a stance against this obvious and blatant form of racism against Native American tribes and cultures. Time and time again, the university refused to end the issue by retiring the “chief”; in fact, it took many years of activism on campus and the attention of organizations such as the NCAA for the university to finally concede their using of this mascot. As such, through their lack of action, the university was in fact only further fueling the issue by not taking a strong stance against the “chief” but rather giving this responsibility to social justice activists.
Allowing the persistence of a racist symbol such as the “chief” on campus only further divides the campus, and does not allow for progress to be made in regards to the seeking of a new mascot, one that is truly inoffensive. Instead, through its indifference, the university continued to support racism on its campus, and allowed this to persist without addressing the needs of students.
In allowing the Students for Chief Illiniwek the space on campus to continue hosting the “next dance” of the “chief”, the university has created a space where the “chief” can continue to thrive. In allowing this “next dance” the university has done very little to demonstrate that an education should be one that prepares one to live in a democratic society, and can provide students with the tools necessary for critical discussions and discourses regarding power, privilege, and race relations in the U.S. We demand that the university finally decide that it must take action on this issue in order to effectively address increasing racial tensions and racial hostility.
Photo credit: Matt Wright via Wikimedia