Has campus changed since the Chief left?



By Ebonique Wool

One year ago today, Chief Illiniwek danced for the last time. Since that day, several questions have arisen as to whether getting rid of the Chief has changed anything. So where does the University stand one year later?

The Dance

Other University traditions have not been retired along with the Chief. The traditional music that was played when the Chief was the symbol is still played by the Marching Illini during halftime of sporting events at the University.

“There are people who say there’s too much expression of the Chief Illiniwek still,” said Tom Hardy, executive director for University relations. “They don’t want him on homecoming parades, and they would change performance music from the band that pre-dates Chief Illiniwek because they associate it with the Chief.”

Miranda Jimenez, junior in LAS, said she feels that using the traditional music of the Chief is encouraging people to hold on to the negative ideology the Chief represented.


photo DI multimedia


The Chief’s last dance

Click to view a video.

“I think (the music) evokes the same ideologies of having a person perform traditional dances, and that’s offensive,” Jimenez said.

However, the Marching Illini have no plans to alter their routine, said Pete Griffin, director of the Marching Illini.

The drill, also known as the Three-in-One, included music while Chief Illiniwek danced across the field, which was followed by the playing of “Hail to the Orange.” According to the University Web site, the three traditional songs played during the drill are “Pride of the Illini,” “March of the Illini” and “Hail to the Orange,” also referred to as the Alma Mater.

“I grew up in Champaign, so I was familiar with the tradition,” said Steve Raquel, former assistant Chief in 1991 to 1992, Chief in 1993 and alumnus of the University. “I was familiar with what the Chief meant to the Illinois fans and the surrounding community.”

Griffin said many are happy the band is still doing the Three-in-One drill, which will continue to be used, as it has been this year.

“The music is part of the drill,” he said. “It’s been done since 1924. 1910 is when you had the Alma Mater, which is the second part of it.”

Megan Myers, a member of the Marching Illini and a junior in Business, said she is glad the band has kept the drill.

“I’m happy they kept it because it’s not a part of the Chief, it’s just part of the ritual,” she said “Now that we don’t have the Chief we just push it in, in the middle.”

When the Marching Illini forms the word “Illini” on the field, a gap remains in the middle where the Chief previously danced.

“Even though the Chief isn’t there, the people still clap at the same parts,” Myers said. “It’s fun to see everyone come together.”

The Council of Chiefs will be hosting new tryouts this year to replace Dan Maloney, the last student to portray Chief Illiniwek.

“Even though (the new Chief) may not dance, the tradition still has value,” Raquel said. “In case something happens and the Chief Illiniwek can dance again, we want to make sure we’re ready and can step back in.”

Hardy said it is fine if the council decides to designate someone Chief for 2008, but there’s no connection with the University.

“They’re free to do that as long as it’s within the boundaries of good taste,” he said.

The Donations

When the Chief was returned, the University worried they would take a hit financially, said Paul Curnutte, director of annual giving programs.

However, he said there has not been a financial deficit because of the retirement of the symbol.

“The bottom line is we are enjoying a good year in terms of fund raising figures,” Curnutte said, adding that he could not provide the donation amounts because they were not “relevant to the story.”

Fund raising for campus has been up in all categories as of the end of January, the total giving input of alumni, corporate support and foundation support are all up from a year ago and the amount of donors was up 5 percent, he said.

“This is the best year we’ve had in the past five,” Curnutte said.

Though, he said the retirement of the Chief has made some impact.

“There’s a lot of alumni who have made the decision not to give because the retirement of the Chief, and that’s certainly a reason to understand,” Curnutte said. “Far more responded against the retirement of the Chief, 80 to 90 percent (who called) were for having the Chief (stay).”

A former Chief and alumnus of the University said the retirement of the Chief would not affect his willingness to donate.

“(The Council of Chiefs) have never asked to show disapproval through the withholding of giving,” Raquel said. “The impact of withholding funds impacts the University more negatively than it needs to.”

Student Perceptions

Later this month, there will be a referendum question on the ballot for student elections asking students if they support the reinstatement of Chief Illiniwek as the symbol of the University of Illinois.

“The referendum won’t be binding to the Board of Trustees to reinstate the Chief as the symbol of the University of Illinois,” said Renee Romano, vice chancellor for student affairs. “It will be students giving their opinion, but it won’t be binding in getting the Chief reinstated.”

Romano said she does not believe it is possible for the Chief to ever be reinstated.

The referendum question was proposed by Students for Chief Illiniwek, who collected the signatures required to put it on the ballot, said Paul Schmitt, junior in LAS, former president for Students for Chief Illiniwek, candidate for Student Trustee and former Illini Media Company employee.

“We wanted to put that on the ballot to give the student body a voice,” Schmitt said. “Because last year their opinion was circumvented by the Board of Trustees’s actions.”

Schmitt said there was not adequate time after the decision was released last year to add a referendum to the ballot for that year’s student election.

“We had only seven hours between the announcement and the deadline for the referendum questions for the 2007 elections,” Schmitt said.

A representative from the Native American House said they would not comment on the issue of the Chief.

Robin Kaler, spokesperson for the campus, said there had been enough discussion already on the topic of the Chief.

“There has been many years of input and discussion on the issue prior to the decision being made,” Kaler said.

The major change that can be noted over the past year is that the symbol of the Chief is officially not being used, Kaler said.

“The Chief Illiniwek tradition is over,” said Executive Director for University relations Hardy. “One thing that hasn’t changed is the discussion about the existence of Chief Illiniwek. People on all points of the spectrum of the debate are expressing their point of view still.”

Kate Vanek, junior in Communications, said she finds the symbol of the Chief meaningful.

“It represents the pride we have in our school: honor, strength and the heritage of the state,” Vanek said.

Vanek said she realizes that older cartoon portrayals of the Chief are racist but feels it has not been like that for years.

“I think people realize portraying him as a cartoon was racist,” Vanek said. “The way he was when he was retired, I don’t think was racist at all.”

Other students on campus feel that the symbol is and always has been racist.

“When you have a symbol that’s like a minstrel show, I find that problematic,” said Miranda Jimenez, junior in LAS. “I feel it’s dehumanizing.”

Jimenez said one thing to analyze when saying the Chief has been a tradition at the University is to ask what the tradition is.

“The tradition came from white, elitist males,” she said. “Whose tradition is it?”

Jimenez said she supports the University and enjoys going to sporting events, but feels there can be another way of showing togetherness.

“Traditionally, we get together and we want to support our team, but we just need to change the symbol,” she said.

Maggie Buysse, junior in LAS, said that in retrospect, she would like the Chief gone if it is the cause of so much controversy.

“(The Chief) is supposed to be a fun thing,” Buysse said. “If it’s going to be a negative thing then it shouldn’t be around.”

Though there are still many opinions on the symbol of the Chief one year after its retirement, a diversity of ideas on campus is expected.

“Whether the Chief is right or wrong is an opinion, it is not an absolute truth,” Schmitt said.