01/29/2004

SPLC Urges University of Illinois to Retire Racist Symbol

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors bias incidents across the nation, called on the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign today to eliminate its stereotypical and demeaning mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

"Every year, more than 500,000 college students across the country are the targets of bias-driven slurs and physical assaults," said Brandon Wilson of Tolerance.org, who leads the Center's college outreach program. "The University of Illinois shouldn't contribute to the problem by officially sponsoring a racist symbol."

In April 2000, the Center's legal director sent a letter to University of Illinois Board of Trustees charging that the University's school symbol violated federal civil rights law. "The consistent use of racial caricatures violates both Title II and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," the letter explained.

In March 2004, University of Illinois trustees will vote on whether to retain Chief Illiniwek as the school mascot. Voting to keep the symbol would communicate trustee support of a racist image, Wilson said.

[Update: In late February, trustee Frances Carroll, who introduced the motion to retire the chief, withdrew the motion citing a lack of consensus on the issue. Students at the University of Illinois are planning a referendum on Chief Illiniwek in mid-March; Native American groups and others who support the mascot's retirement are going ahead with protests as planned.]

"We call on the University of Illinois to retire Chief Illiniwek, both because it is required by law and because it is the right thing to do," said Wilson. "It's time for the University of Illinois to join other forward-thinking schools that have retired their offensive mascots."

In 2003, the Center published 10 Ways to Fight Hate on Campus. More than 30,000 copies have been distributed on campuses across the country.