American Indian Studies Statment on October 2 Event at Assembly Hall

Thursday, October 1, 2009

posted under , , , by Unit for Criticism

On September 30, 2009 Robert Warrior, writing on behalf of the American Indian Studies faculty (several of whom, including Warrior, are affilaites of the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory), circulated a statement which appears below. The statement responds to the Friday, October 2 event at Assembly Hall depicted in the above photograph. The Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory invites readers of this blog to comment on and discuss the statement as well as the broader issues and contexts to which it responds.

For those interested in consulting them, the American Indian Studies Program maintains a series of links providing background on this topic at

American Indian Studies statement on the October 2 event at Assembly Hall

I am writing on behalf of my colleagues in the American Indian Studies
Program to join those students, faculty, staff, and others who stand in
opposition to the event planned for Assembly Hall Friday, October 2, and I
ask others to join us, as well.

People in our program have stood against these invidious forms of racial
stereotyping and masquerade for many years, and our program remains
committed to moving forward in creating an inclusive campus environment for
everyone. Those who continue to engage in these actions that demean
American Indian people exacerbate a climate of intolerance, abuse, and
hostility that increases with each move further into the past of a sports
mascot tradition that the University retired over two years ago.

The real failure here, of course, is one of leadership, and Chancellor
Richard Herman, President Joseph White, and the Board of Trustees have
abdicated their responsibility to lead us away from this painful chapter in
the University's history. Hopefully, new campus leaders will swiftly and
decisively steer us in wiser directions.

Because of the failure of our appointed leaders, others must stand in the
breach. To those we join in standing against what is happening, I want to
express on behalf of our program my appreciation, admiration, and

Robert Warrior
Professor of American Indian Studies, English, and History


Make A Comment


Sharon Irish said...

Robert, it takes such courage to write these words in public. Thank you and know that I stand with you to the best of my ability.

Bob Parker said...

The lack of courage from the highest levels of campus and the need for courage from the rest of us together make a sad spectacle. It's simple: racial stereotypes dehumanize. Campus leadership would not authorize stereotyping billboards or rent Assembly Hall to celebrate a racial or ethnic stereotype for another group of people, but on this topic they abdicate the responsibility of an educational institution and the responsibility of basic human courtesy and decency.

Carol Spindel said...

The leadership of the university has abdicated its responsibility to educate. Freshmen arrive on campus and they aren't informed of the simplest fact: that the Native American community on campus, in the community and in the state has asked them NOT to wear or buy items with the Chief logo or the word CHIEF. Whether to buy and wear this clothing is an ethical decision they make. But young students need information in order to understand that and the university does not provide them with the most basic facts. Even after more than a decade of struggle and frustration, I continue to believe that most students genuinely want an inclusive campus where all students feel welcome. But they are not used to thinking beyond their own experience, their own privilege, and their own assumptions. The process of widening their horizons to new perspectives is, I believe, called EDUCATION.

LeAnne Howe said...


How can we call the University of Illinois, a "Research One Institution" when we fail at providing education and leadership on the roots of racism concerning the "Chief."

It's a pretty neat hat trick the administration pulls off -- retiring the chief, yet allowing him to rise from the dead every fall at Assembly Hall. Or at Homecoming. He's there is every t-shirt, sign, in all the shop windows. Capitalism is one excuse, ["the group raises their own money" after all] free speech is another, ["this is what our Founding Fathers fought for."] Is it?

Now we're back to the education question. What are we to do as educators? Wring our hands? I am certain we can do better than this.

Lauren said...

The photograph captures the University's hypocrisy, the "neat hat trick" LeAnne describes, so powerfully. The "Chief" is not our mascot, but there will always be a next dance. I don't know the history of post-retirement efforts to educate the student body as well as I should. Can the University's freshman orientation include discussion of the history of this issue on our campus and of mascots on other campuses as well?

Tony Clark said...


I agree with everyone who has posted here already.

Having participated in the march to and rally at Assembly Hall on Friday, October 2, I must say that I was really, REALLY proud of the young people who organized the event and who represented themselves as persons who stand to claim human dignity for everyone. Its "pedagogical reverberations," as Mari Matsuda might designate them, inspire a theory of group relations and solidarity that obviously understands interrelationships of oppression. Such principled, public oppositional acts, I think, not only expose the tensions in the production of consent to the prevailing social order on campus, but offer hope for and a pathway into the future.

On the other hand, campus leadership, in this critical moment in the history of an historically white university and in an otherwise somewhat hopeful moment in the history of group relations in the United States and on campus, seems to be cowering behind the First Amendment. Indeed, on Friday in the Daily Illini, student journalist Ryan Young quotes Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs Robin Kaler, as characterizing the university as, in the words of Young, "a place where students can learn to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others while maintaining their freedom of speech." An odd notion: listening to the ideas of others might limit freedom? Young quotes Kaler as saying "We have student organizations for and against all sorts of things. And again it falls under that umbrella of free speech rights." In positioning the campus administration as a champion of "free speech," standing up for "rights" in this manner that empties "all sorts of things" of any appreciation of power, excuses campus from taking any ethical responsibility.

Of course, the Chief-loving crowd reads through the "rights" rhetoric to see where the campus actually stands and prophesizes on the direction in which the university and campus will move in the wake of the White/Hermann regime. Commenting on October 2 in response to student-journalist Young's article, "Old Illini" writes "The fact that the University administration has gone on record as supporting the concept of free speech and freedom of association, even when it is in the form of an activity that the PC fanatics tut tut, is a breath of fresh air after the enforced political correctness of the crumbling White/Hermann administration. . . . Illiniwek is now becoming a symbol of THE MAJORITY of students, faculty and alumni taking back the campus from the PC fanatics and restoring those basic rights of speech and association guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."

I wonder: In this transitional moment, what do those social dominance reactionaries whose "knowing" is grounded in stereotype-congruence responses and who fund "Next Dances" and agree with "Old Illini" have planned to influence the next version of university and campus administration?