Illinois mascot is chief concern on campus

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (U-WIRE) — This weekend the University of Illinois hosted the Conference on the Elimination of Racist Mascots. Figures from across the nation attended to unify activists, build coalitions among diverse groups locally, bring racist mascots to the attention of the general public and empower local grass roots efforts.
The conference was endorsed by a wide range of local organizations such as La Casa, the Illinois Disciples Foundation, Rainforest Action Group and Students for Real Democracy, among others.
It drew widespread support from the Native American community across the country. Also, Vernon Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman of “Dances with Wolves” attended the conference.
Hopefully the conference was able to stimulate discussion about images of Native Americans in pop culture, the place of Native Americans in American society and the place of Chief Illiniwek at Illinois.
But we also must hope that the discussion was kept at a respectable level. All too often the anti-Chief movement has hurt its cause in the past by hurling epithets at the Board of Trustees instead of opening up a reasonable dialogue about the role of the Chief.
We would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that there is no reason to keep the Chief. A blonde, white male who prances around the football field is an embarrassment to the University of Illinois.
It was the case in the past that the student body united around the Chief, but this is no longer the case. Chief Illiniwek is the most divisive figure on campus.
It has also been stated that the Chief is a venerated tradition, and that for many alumni, standing and singing Illinois fight songs after the Chief performs at halftime is a very special experience. However, this nation also had a long tradition of selling Africans. A tradition should not be venerated if it doesn’t hold water. The Chief should not be venerated simply because it seems he’s always been here. The Chief should be venerated if he were suitable entertainment and he could instill pride in the hearts of students for their university.
But the Chief is not a mascot Illinois students should cherish. He’s a loutish caricature. Many universities have policies against playing teams with racist mascots. If Illinois weren’t in the Big Ten, the universities of Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State would refuse to schedule our teams.
It was common in the past for universities to have some type of Native Americans as mascots. However, most of them have replaced those mascots. Stanford, St. John’s and Eastern Michigan have all recently changed their nicknames, but the University of Illinois will not. Despite a 97-23 senate vote to retire the Chief, the Board of Trustees remains as obstinate as usual in addressing concerns on campus.
The Chief is failing in his mission to unite Illinois and be a source of Illini pride.
It’s time to retire the Chief.

— This staff editorial originally appeared in Monday’s edition of the University of Illinois Daily Illini.