Pimped Out at the U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois seems determined to sacrifice its integrity for the sake of alumni dollars, which reveals that the latest controversy over the "chief and the campaign to force professors from their jobs for protesting against him, is not just another attack on the left coming from organized right-wing students, which is bad enough, but of the importance of college sports as a business that has become too high a priority at many schools. As the above article, as well as the next one shows, these sports programs often cost more money than they bring in.
I guess now it's an endless cycle, and nothing will stop the University of Illinois's Board of Trustees from getting on their knees for alumni bucks.
The story: The mascot or, as the university prefers to call it, "symbol" of the team is the Chief Illiniwek, a white student in redface, moccasins, and head-dress, who does a made-up "Indian" dance at sports half-times shows. The university, which has about 100 Native American students, has had this mascot since the 1920s. The mascot was first challenged by American Indian activists in the 1970s, but activism gained real momentum in the 1980s with the founding of the University's Native American studies program. One of the many activists who have opposed the "chief" is Charlene Teters, is featured in the movie "In Whose Honor," an excellent documentary about the impact of Native American mascots on actual Native Americans.
in 2000, faculty at Illinois resolved that the "Chief" interfered with the educational mission of the institution.
In 2001, faculty threatened to send out a letter to athletic recruits about the mascot.
In 2005, the NCAA took action and said that the Illinois team's mascot could not appear at Post-Season games and that the school could not host post-season games at all. A great move by the NCAA.
However, things are now stuck in court; the University isappealing the NCAA decision, and has reportedly attempted to pass off the trademarked symbol to the alumni association - though this didn't work.
Exasperated with the intransigence of the university, a group of faculty finally did send out a letter
to recruits, and now an angry student has created a petition calling on the professors who signed the letter to resign.
Although it seems like an odd thing to imagine that a fraternity brother's rallying of "school spirit" could actually have influence on the jobs of professors, particularly those as notable as historian David Roediger, whose name is now featured as one of the "chief villains" on the student's call to resign petition, I'm worried about the climate that we're in, given the recent skewering of Ward Churchill over his article about September 11th, and the kind of money involved in college sports programs.
When I read about the Chief Illiniwek conflict, I feel like I'm living on another planet from the rest of America. I was also horrified to read that students at the U. of Illinois, which has the largest fraternity and sorority system in the entire country, recently held a "fiesta" at which students dressed up as Mexican immigrants as a joke. As Aimee Rickmann, a graduate student who wrote the above-linked-letter to the student newspaper protesting the party pointed out, the Illinois mascot sets the tone that excuses such behavior.
People at Illinois claim that they are really "honoring" Native Americans with their chief, despite the fact that the Native American students who go to the university find it offensive. So, abstract made up Native Americans inspire "awe and reverence" in the Illini fans, but actual Native Americans are just a drag.
Reading about this "Illiniwek" symbol I was reminded of another story about Native Americans and school sports, which was not about the mascot, but about the experiences of a group of Native Americans who played highschool basketball in South Dakota, which I'd heard a few years ago on "This American Life"(key word search "high speed chase" and you'll find the episode).
Following the game, white students chased the Native American
girls, called them Prairie Niggers, and fired shots at them from their car. They didn't think they were racists either.
If the Illini, and other "Indian" mascots were really honoring Native Americans, wouldn't the culture of sports be more friendly to Native Americans, promoting actual Native American athletes? Since the people who protest the "chief" and other mascots are often Indian, and the people who chase them around, make threats and create a climate of fear at these institutions are mostly white, I would have to say that it doesn't look like these symbols are doing much in the way of increasing understanding.
But I guess it doesn't matter. For the University of Illinois, keeping the bills paid on their sports program must be more important than maintaining a university that serves as an institution for everyone in the state of Illinois. I just wonder how much more shameless this "ho" university will get.