CHICAGO--Administrators at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have raised the idea of adopting a mascot to ease the continuing turmoil over Chief Illiniwek, the school's officially banned but still omnipresent symbol.
A report issued by an advisory committee said the university should "explore the possibility of new traditions that could include a mascot" after a series of conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and others in the spring.
The school retired Chief Illiniwek in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA, which labeled it "hostile and abusive," but the image is still commonly found on campus. Students have made unsanctioned appearances dressed in the Chief's regalia at games and special events, sometimes leading to clashes with those critical of the symbol.
Chancellor Robert Jones said he believes adopting a mascot will not end the dispute unless the school addresses other parts of campus culture. The advisory group, led by Jones' special assistant, Rusty Barcelo, said an exploration of a mascot "must be seriously undertaken -- as one piece of the larger response to Native imagery at the University of Illinois."
The report was the culmination of four "critical conversations" held in April and May, involving more than 600 people. The discussions centered on the school's history of using Native American imagery, the effect of its discontinuation and ways to move beyond the conflict.
A school mascot should receive consideration as one way to do that, the report said, noting that the Illinois Student Government and academic senate have already recommended exploring that option. (Advocates of Chief Illiniwek typically refer to him as an honored "symbol" rather than a mascot).
"Repeatedly, stakeholders stated that in order to bring closure the University would need to introduce a mascot or develop a new tradition," the report said. "As one stakeholder said, 'Identify a new mascot. There has to be a formal recognition that there is no opportunity for the Chief to return as the mascot. Acknowledge its role in the annals of the university history but more forward.'"
But Ivan Dozier, a former Chief Illiniwek who is alumni adviser for the group Students for Chief Illiniwek, said a mascot will not erase the sense of loss many have felt since the school disowned its longtime symbol.
"There has been a huge void left by the absence of Chief Illiniwek," he said. "I firmly believe nothing else can fill that gap."
Sponsored Video Stories from LifeZette
He added, though, that he appreciated the university's attempt to listen to the other side of the argument, saying it was more productive than the "forcible bans" imposed by the school.
The committee said the university should consider preserving the Chief's history using "a wide array of storytelling and archival tools." Other ideas focused on increasing knowledge of Native American history and culture, as well as "engaging the campus community in traditional and contemporary Native culture."
Jones said the next step will be to name a commission that will come up with recommendations. He didn't know how long that would take but anticipated it would be done in "a relatively short time period."
Although he reiterated that Chief Illiniwek will not return as an official school symbol, he said discussions of the controversy have become more civil.
"My sense is the temperature has been lowered significantly," he said. "For the first time, people are more interested in having a dialogue and making sure this thing is done in a transparent and inclusive process."
(c)2018 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.