Chancellor should curtail Chief event

By Chelsea Fiddyment

I don’t need to explain “The Next Dance” to anybody– or the fact that quite a few people have an opinion about it. That number includes Chancellor Herman, who released a statement in Monday’s DI, and Robert Warrior, the director of the American Indian Studies Program and the Native American House. Warrior referenced resolutions against American Indian mascots from national organizations and urged “people of conscience” to oppose the rally and the attitudes behind it.

Herman, on the other hand, said that while the University does not support “The Next Dance,” students involved have the right to exercise their freedom of speech. And to an extent, this is true: The Student Code does not bar registered student organizations from sponsoring events that could be considered discriminatory, so long as no one is prevented from attending any event.

In 2006, however, similar circumstances went a little bit differently. Many members of the campus community have some idea about the “fiesta”-themed exchange (read: “Tacos and Tequila”) held by a couple of Greek organizations. People were outraged and staged demonstrations. The Illinois Student Senate passed a resolution condemning racist behavior. And finally, judicial sanctions were enacted against the two houses responsible for holding the party.

At that time Herman voiced his concerns about students’ freedom of speech in the same way he has done regarding “The Next Dance.” Despite punishment being levied for other reasons- namely alcohol-at least something was done. Because of the blatant racism of the party and the uproar it caused, many students would not have accepted a lack of penalization. Others still believed the disciplinary sentence was too lenient.

“The Next Dance” has generated just as much of a stir, partly because of Chancellor Herman’s indifferent attitude in regards to its occurrence. Before chalking up another incident to the first amendment, he should consider the possibilities for citation.

The University has already declared that Students for Chief Illiniwek cannot advertise for the event using the name “Chief Illiniwek,” as it is a trademark of the school. The Code specifically states that “no registered organization shall be permitted to use the name of or any symbol identified with the University.” If someone supposed to be the next Chief performs dressed as him at an RSO rally, it could be interpreted as usage of a University “symbol” under this ambiguous decree. This becomes especially problematic when the RSO is charging an admission fee-that is, making a profit-on the usage of this symbol.

The other possible problem presented by the Student Code lies with the type of funds used to pay for the event. If organizational funds (money from the RSO’s on-campus “bank account”) were used, the argument could be made that the money is paying for a rally that is not “related to the educational goals and objectives of the University,” i.e., goes against the institution’s efforts to create a nondiscriminatory and equal learning environment for all of its students. Such a claim is justified by the American Psychological Association’s resolution on mascots in 2005: Research concludes that the educational experience of all students, not just American Indians, is negatively impacted by the usage of American Indian mascots.

The University has landed itself in a sticky situation. Despite Herman’s denial of support for “The Next Dance” or a reinstatement of the Chief, the potential lack of punishment threatens to undermine the standard set by the University’s “commitment to the most fundamental principles of academic freedom, equality of opportunity, and human dignity” stated in the Student Code.

Without action, the University renders any damaging expression of discrimination of any kind acceptable under students’ rights to freedom of speech, so long as anyone can participate and no one gets busted for alcohol. And by allowing this RSO to march out “the next Chief” without penalty, the University condones his continued appearance following “The Next Dance.” If the higher-ups can wash their hands of responsibility by saying “we don’t support this,” then students can apparently compromise the educational experiences of all to whatever extent they like.

This isn’t just about stereotyping. It’s about establishing our school as a place in which everyone has access to an equal atmosphere and equal opportunities to learn. The chancellor must do more than talk, and so must we.

Chelsea is a senior in English and creative writing and believes it’s time to break with tradition for good.