Anti-Chief, pro-Illinois

By Katie Dunne

I am a journalism major. I live in Scott Hall. My favorite bar is Kam’s. I am anti-Chief.

As a freshman on this campus, there were a few things I had to know about myself, and my position on the Chief was definitely one of them.

A lot has changed since freshman year. I’m no longer a journalism major, I don’t live in Scott Hall, my favorite bar is definitely not Kam’s, and I don’t have to be anti-Chief anymore. The dichotomy that once split this campus has ceased to exist. The terms “pro-Chief” and “anti-Chief” have become meaningless because, as of last year, there is no Chief.

This begs the question: Why is a group called “Students for Chief Illiniwek” spending more than $4,000 on an event that glorifies the nonexistent University symbol? Though the goal of Students for Chief Illiniwek is to keep the tradition alive, “The Next Dance” will ultimately accomplish only two things: It will offend a significant portion of the University community and it will give false hope to Chief supporters.

Before moving down to Champaign in 2005, I was completely Chief-neutral. I knew he was the University symbol, he danced at halftime, and he yelled, “Oskee Wow-Wow” (whatever that meant). It wasn’t until I moved into Scott Hall and was confronted with “Save the Chief” campaigns that I felt compelled to choose a side. Would I be pro- or anti-Chief?

The most persuasive arguments for Chief Illiniwek – his value as a University tradition and his special meaning for alumni – fell short of convincing me. The game-day fun and halftime entertainment seemed incredibly trivial when compared to the opinions of American Indian students and community members. The Chief’s dance was offensive to their culture. His regalia made a mockery of their traditions. How could I overlook those things for the sake of a halftime show? Needless to say, I came down on the anti-Chief side and, two years later, so did the Board of Trustees.

Last year, the University’s governing body made it very clear that the Chief had danced his last dance. His negative effect on the University was beginning to far outweigh the value of his tradition, and the Board acted in the University’s best interest.

Creating an event that attempts to resurrect this symbol is counterproductive. Rather than accepting the Board of Trustees’ decision and moving forward as a united campus, Students for Chief Illiniwek insists on rehashing a fruitless debate. “The Next Dance” will stir up anger and resentment on both sides of the dispute, and it will, once again, divide this campus.

For the next few days, this event will create some noise among students, some discomfort among administrators and some paperwork in the Trademark Department. But more importantly, it will offend the group of people that it attempts to honor. Many American Indians on this campus considered the Chief’s retirement a victory. They thought that their culture had finally been spared the humiliation of Chief Illiniwek’s “dance.” Now, a year later, as wounds are healing and the campus is moving forward, the Chief’s Memorial will drag us back to square one.

This student group’s perpetuation of the Chief controversy does a disservice to the entire University community by distracting us from what really matters. The University of Illinois is not and never should be defined by its mascot. People choose to attend this school because they want an impeccable education, not because they like the “Three in One.” They want to be surrounded by intellectuals in an environment that is conducive to learning and self-discovery, with or without a halftime dance. Our campus is represented by millions of students, faculty, alumni and fans around the world, not by a stereotypical symbol.

A lot has changed since freshman year, but one thing remains the same: The University of Illinois is one of the greatest places in the world. It is time to prove that we are more than a symbol. It is time to stop honoring the Chief and start honoring the orange and blue.

Katie is a senior in Spanish and political science and Kam’s still has a special place in her heart.