What you wear represents the entire campus

What+you+wear+represents+the+entire+campus

Recently, I came across the image of an Unofficial T-shirt with a design on the front with “Wait in line to get drunk? Bitch I’ve got a reservation” written across a drawing of a stereotypical Native American figure. 

Unofficial is a celebration on campus that occurs each year, always with controversial apparel ranging from depictions of Chief Illiniwek to an overarching stereotype of Irish people as heavy drinkers.

More specifically regarding this shirt however, let’s dissect the meaning of those two sentences.

The word “bitch” is clearly a derogatory term. Sure, the term is often used today in casual, even friendly conversation, but it also has historical precedence as a strongly sexist term dating back centuries.

In addition to being sexist, the shirt is offensive toward Native American culture and history. It makes a reference to the period in which the University had Chief Illiniwek as a mascot by using the word “reservation.”

Though this remains a highly contested opinion, I firmly believe the decision to remove Chief Illiniwek was necessary.

To be brief, a chief is a position considered by many tribes to be religious and spiritual, while at our school, he was a source of entertainment. Further, though the Oglala Sioux Tribe originally donated the regalia for Chief Illiniwek, they eventually asked the University to return it due to inappropriate use.  

Regardless, many students have claimed that Chief Illiniwek should be brought back to the University, because they believe we honor the mascot in a respectful manner.

Yet, the Chief shows up on a good amount of Unofficial gear. Tying a Native American stereotype to a holiday centered on getting drunk is not honorable.

I’m relieved that the shirt, or any Chief apparel, is not officially tied to the University, but it is still a real format of University representation. The way that students decide to behave and express themselves affects the reputation and culture of the University in its entirety.

I am grateful and supportive of the fact that we have the freedom to say what we like and express ourselves as we see fit. But having the freedom to do something doesn’t necessarily mean one should.

I have also heard the argument that “you’ve just got to know your audience.” In other words, these “jokes” are perfectly fine so long as they are made in the presence of friends.

I cannot agree because any perpetuation of racism, sexism, culture degradation or other forms of oppression are harmful. Even if you think your audience knows you aren’t serious, issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., are all still very present in the world. 

Making light of them or even pretending to perpetuate those ideologies is wrong.

Even if hypothetically accepting the idea of merely knowing one’s audience, putting stereotypes and derogatory language on a T-shirt makes the joke public. The wearer of the shirt no longer “knows his audience,” or has control over where it will spread.

Further, Unofficial is a highly publicized event. Be aware that you and what you’re wearing can end up on social media and even news sites where you cannot control who can see it.

In my time here, the University has had what seems to be an unusually high amount of controversies. 

Several of them were racist, sexist and culturally offensive incidents. Considering this Unofficial shirt, it seems that those elements are still very present on our campus today.

Two of the most recent incidents include the Chief Illiniwek controversy, with its effects still lingering on campus, and a day last spring semester when students adamantly decided school should be cancelled due to cold weather.

When it was not, several students responded with misogynistic and racist tweets regarding our chancellor. 

These controversies are downright embarrassing. In the aftermath of the cold day scandal, I had friends who expressed relief that they hadn’t chosen to come to this university because of the numerous racial controversies.

I love this university, but we need to be more respectful about the manner in which we represent it.

Precisely because I take so much pride in attending this school, I’m advocating for building a more inclusive culture for the University. What students wear is one way in which we are able to do so.

If partaking in the celebration of Unofficial this Friday, which I am not endorsing in any way, have some consideration for what you choose to wear.

Certainly, you have the right to wear whatever you choose. But consider whether it is worth the risk of offending another person on a racial, gendered, or cultural basis just so that you can wear the T-shirt you like on a drinking holiday.

Alex is a junior in LAS.

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