Update: UI creates mascot implementation committee


Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson speaks at the Deloitte Auditorium of the Business Instructional Facility.

By Megan Jones, Staff writer

The campus is moving forward with implementing the University’s “first ever” athletic mascot.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson announced the University is creating a steering committee to begin the process to choose a new mascot at Monday’s Academic Senate meeting. It will also implement a timeline for finding the new mascot.

The committee will consist of 10-12 members and include faculty, students, alumni and community members. The process will begin after commencement.

It will not be an easy task, Wilson said, as many people have different opinions on this subject. She  hopes this will be the beginning of building school spirit in an area where the University could use help.

“We are committed to creating a first ever mascot that embraces the principles and traditions of this University in a way that is very inclusive and that’s honorific,” Wilson said.

Chief Illiniwek served as a “symbol” representing the University until 2007 and the presence still lingers on this campus. The chief was banned after pressure from the NCAA and many on campus said the chief was racist and uninclusive.

The Illinois Student Senate created an exploratory committee to look into the creation of a mascot and met with Wilson on Friday to show their findings in a report. The committee hosted several public meetings and took input via email with various stakeholders to receive feedback.

Student senators Mark Schaer and Alex Villanueva co-chaired the committee. Villanueva said Wilson contacted the Board of Trustees after meeting Friday.

The report stated that many students still seem divided on the issue but that it is important to move forward and pay close attention to inclusivity. Currently, students do not have anything to rally around at athletic events.

“When we told members of the student athletic advisory committee, their faces lit up,” Villanueva said.

This initiative would not change the University’s Fighting Illini nickname or playing “Three-In-One” music at athletic events.

The mascot will not be “silly” as many forewarned, Wilson said.

This issue has torn the University apart for the last 30 years, Villanueva said, and there needs to be transparency in the committee’s process. When he first found out he was admitted into the University, he looked up who the mascot was, he said, and students want to engage with the history of Fighting Illini athletics.

“There is a desire to have a mascot on campus. That’s why you see Sassy the Squirrel or the Red Grange character,” Villanueva said. “It’s something to get behind as a student body.”

Faculty and staff members supported the initiative, stating now is a good time to implement with the University’s upcoming 150th anniversary. While students remained divided, more were in favor of moving toward a new mascot and said the Native American imagery of the Chief, such as the images used during Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, is offensive.

Sam LeRoy, student senator and Block I chair, said he does not believe the campus is ready for a new mascot.

He voted in support for the report under the impression the steering committee would continue research on a larger scale. LeRoy does worry about the committee no longer being exploratory but headed straight toward implementation without reaching out to a broader base of constituencies. He said the town hall meetings could not have gathered as much input as is need when working with an issue as large as a school mascot.

While serving for Block I, LeRoy worked closely with the student-fan base and the retirement of Chief Illiniwek caused a lot of division on campus but that he is finally starting to see the fan base come together again.

“We are finally starting to unify and see alumni engagement come back to our athletic program, which has been gone for years,” he said. “It’s almost been 10 years since the Chief was retired … and for some they’re not ready.”

LeRoy believes having a mascot could be helpful for the campus, but it has to be organic and come from the fan-base, or else it will not only turn people away from the stadiums, but also turn people away from donating to the University.

“If they do decide to implement a new mascot, they will need to pull in the financial resources to make it good and to promote it,” he said. “It’s not just about the money so much because funding comes from so many different levels, but (the question is) will this keep our community engaged with the University or will the students, alum and community members still feel ownership?”

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