The Daily Illini

Giving history a new name

Back to Article
Back to Article

Giving history a new name

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

The newest residence hall to hit campus is scheduled to open in fall 2016, and with it, comes an important act of respect and visibility. The University recently announced its proposed plan to name the state-of-the-art residence hall after Carlos Montezuma, born Wassaja, the very first Native American student to graduate from the University.

Since Chief Illiniwek became our mascot in 1926, Native American attendees of the University have lived and learned in the shadow of an offensive mascot who has ultimately become an emblem of cultural appropriation on campus.

Even today, nearly a decade after Chief Illiniwek was officially retired by the University, his presence hasn’t waned. His face is on any number of shirts as you walk down the Quad or attend any University sporting event.

As the NCAA declared in its 2005 ruling regarding American colleges use of Native American mascots, Chief Illiniwek is “hostile and abusive” and continues to breed an uncomfortable environment for the University’s current Native American students, a notable minority that is still wrongfully represented by the presence of the Chief on campus.

The University’s association with the Chief at times seems omnipresent and never ending, and whether you’re in support or opposition of Chief representing our school, the controversy has been heated and intense.

But the University’s proposal to name a residence hall after Wassaja means acknowledging him, and other Native Americans, as important parts of our school’s history and serves as a small — but important — act of reparation for decades of disrespect. Instead of looking at Native American history being defined by the presence of the Chief, we could start a new chapter, celebrating the presence of Native American students and graduates. We encourage the Board of Trustees to approve this proposal at its May 6 meeting.

Furthermore, on a campus where buildings are primarily named after men like David Kinley or William W. Grainger, the new building will give the impression that people worth honoring at our University are an increasingly diverse group of individuals from different fields and backgrounds who have made impacts in varying ways.

By choosing to name a residence hall after someone like the first Native American to graduate from the University, we show current and future students that everyone can and should be celebrated for their accomplishments, regardless of who they are or where they come from. It’s an important step toward historical inclusivity and one of many steps we should take toward making our campus a place where anyone can find their home. 

Leave a Comment