LETTER: Learning racism at U of I

The Daily Illini recently reported on a “Mexican Exchange” where white Greek undergrads dressed up as poor, non-white gardeners, aliens and young pregnant mothers to “fiesta.” In retrospect, many “fiesta”-goers claimed to understand that serious problems are involved in whites dressing up as caricatures of other cultures for the sake of fun.

I hope University Board of Trustees take note of this unfortunate event which took place on their watch. For, while individual responsibility remains, one might not expect much cultural sensitivity from members of a non-Native community holding as a mascot a stereotypical interpretation of a Native people.

“Far too many students will laugh this event off and roll their eyes at those who have been offended,” Pierce’s column stated.

Indeed. As students, this trivialization of racism has been modeled by those overseeing the maintenance of “The Chief.”

And, as students, we learn.

The BOT is setting a poor example keeping “Chief Illiniwek,” and continuing a culturally insensitive climate that permeates campus. Their unwillingness to address racism by “retiring” this mascot has resulted in force-enlisting our community to grapple out individual allegiances, leading to division, and students’ desensitization to – and denial of – what the NCAA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and every national Native organization has called out as a distorted, inauthentic, degrading racist symbol.

The preponderance of students in “CHIEF” t-shirts illustrates the effectiveness of the BOT-led lesson on the right for white people to malign others’ cultures for their own entertainment. Within this context, mockingly bigoted student events like the “fiesta” seem not too surprising.

I am disappointed in the University. The modeling of racism through “The Chief” needs to stop. When this occurs, like for these students, it will be clear what a poor choice was made in allowing things to go this far, or to happen at all.

Aimee Rickman

Graduate student