Students must eliminate lingering presence of the chief

By Gabriel Costello

For the past nine years, we have been without a mascot here at the University of Illinois.JT

However, while the Chief might not be dancing before basketball and football games anymore, his image can still be seen across campus, perhaps most frequently on sweatshirts sold in commemoration of “Unofficial.”

Although the University has made significant strides in removing the Chief from all official apparel, it cannot prevent some students from perpetuating the image of the Chief on campus. It would be nice to see the University crack down harder on pro-Chief groups when they arise, but the most important foundational changes regarding the Chief’s lingering presence on campus must occur at the student level.

I refuse to entertain arguments that demand this tradition must be respected. The irony of demanding the University respect the history of a mascot that dates back to 1926 while disregarding thousands of years of Native American history is perplexing.

I also refuse to accept the argument that the Chief honors the Illini tribe when time and time again, Native Americans have argued against the Chief. It is incredibly short-sighted to think that the sporting tradition of one university is more important than the history and wishes of a group of people.

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    I understand that the University means a great deal to many people, and that being passionate about Illini athletics goes along with that, but appropriating Native American culture is unnecessary. In the 21st century, the University must continue to become more inclusive. It is a distinct juxtaposition to have the symbol of a well-regarded institution of higher education based in cultural appropriation.

    Until a new mascot is chosen, the Chief remains a central image of the University for many students and fans in the area. This is unacceptable. Let’s move the dial forward and choose a mascot to truly represent this school.

    In the meantime, the burden of proof falls upon the student body here. There’s no better way to prove that we are truly broadening our understanding of the world than distancing ourselves from this symbol.

    Let me be clear: I want the University to have a distinct and memorable symbol. But I do not want our tradition to even entertain the possibility of causing pain to groups that have already been betrayed by the society at large. The image of Chief Illiniwek extends so far beyond the University, into the broader history of American and European treatment of Native Americans.

    That being said, it is clear that as recently as 2014, the continued prominence has caused a great deal of trauma for indigenous students here on campus. In particular, the story of Xochitl Sandoval is hard to ignore. In a letter sent to former Chancellor Phyllis Wise, Sandoval detailed at one point feeling suicidal as a result of the residual presence of the Chief here on campus. She urged the administration to ban apparel with the Chief’s image on campus.JT

    While I think by now it should be clear that I completely agree with her sentiment, I do not think it is realistic to ask this of the administration. Instead, a better course of action is for students to demand this of their peers. Those who are against the Chief need to be as vocal as those who support the Chief.

    Admittedly, it is easier to simply think about one’s personal experiences involving the Chief than a people’s long and painful history. Fans of the Illini may feel a sense of entitlement to the Chief because of connections formed in their youth, but those emotions can’t compare to the feelings the Chief has evoked for Native American students. But in the end, the history is what everyone here needs to remember.

    We are attending, first and foremost, an institution at which we learn. Often, learning can be disquieting, but it is necessary.

    Gabriel is a sophomore in LAS.

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