STOP responds to University’s Chief decision

Belden Fields, chair of UC Senate Committee for Equal Opportunity, speaks at the STOP press conference at the African American House, at 708 S. Mathews Ave. in Urbana, Thursday ME Online

Belden Fields, chair of UC Senate Committee for Equal Opportunity, speaks at the STOP press conference at the African American House, at 708 S. Mathews Ave. in Urbana, Thursday ME Online

By Jonathan Wroble

Yesterday, a table inside of the African American Cultural Center, 708 S. Mathews Ave., was lined with paper cups. Guests were encouraged to taste test alternative beverages to Coca Cola products, like Blue Sky natural soda or Jones Co. cherry cola.

This was the scene just minutes before eight speakers presented statements at the STOP coalition’s noon press conference. Their message was much more to digest.

“We can begin a new era,” said Sundiata Cha-Jua, associate professor in history. “Where, in the words of Chancellor (Richard) Herman, knowledge fosters social justice.”

Yesterday at 11 a.m. was the deadline for Chancellor Herman’s response to STOP’s seven main demands, which were given to the administration at the Feb. 1 race forum. The deadline fell 15 business days after the forum and less than twenty hours after Chief Illiniwek’s final dance.

“Last night, I witnessed the last performance of Chief Illiniwek,” said Wanda Pillow, director of the Native American House. “Practices of racial masquerade belong to the past.”

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The retirement of Chief Illiniwek was part of the STOP coalition’s first demand. The group also requests the removal of the term “Fighting Illini” and the discontinuation of the Chief emblem on University property, including merchandise at the Illini Union Bookstore.

As for the other demands, the coalition received a written response from Chancellor Herman before its 11 a.m. deadline. But none of the speakers at the press conference responded to the content of this administrative letter.

“We received this morning a written response,” said Reem Rahman, junior in LAS and spokesperson for STOP. “We will review it carefully to see whether it has met the critical changes.”

Rahman explained that the STOP coalition will read the 11-page letter and reply “as soon as possible.” The coalition continues to expect a “verbal administrative response” to accompany Chancellor Herman’s written statement.

During the press conference the eight speakers covered issues of race, equality, and social justice over the course of about 40 minutes. The decision on Chief Illiniwek came up several times, referred to as a “first step” and in some cases even criticized.

“The primary motivation of the Board of Trustees is to ensure the competitiveness of the athletic department,” said Cha-Jua on the topic.

This was not the only criticism of the University administration.

Lori Serb, graduate student and member of the Coalition Against Coke Contracts, read the entirety of a letter to Associate Chancellor Bill Adams calling for the termination of the University’s contract with Coca Cola.

Meanwhile, Belden Fields, chair of the UC Senate’s Committee for Equal Opportunity, said minority students are “segregated within the University.” He proposed a mandatory course for incoming students to educate them on learning in a diverse environment.

Still, the speakers maintained the main goal of the STOP coalition is to work with the administration, not against it. They also stressed the enduring importance of community participation.

“The time is now,” said Aaron Ammons, co-founder of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice. “Because (we) have a group of students who have decided that they want to positively effect change.”