Sunday, February 04, 2007

Racism, Power, and Privilege at UIUC

In previous posts to the blog, I've referred to incidents of stereotyping and racist acts that have been occurring at UIUC and elsewhere. Unlike other campuses with situations that have been on national news, UIUC has a racialized symbol/mascot for its athletic teams: "Chief Illiniwek."

In response to these incidences on our campus, a group of students, staff, faculty, and community members formed a coalition whose work led to a forum held here on Thursday, Feb. 1st.

Titled "Racism, Power, and Privilege at UIUC," it included 45 minutes for people to make statements, and 45 minutes for UI's President, and UIUC's Chancellor, Provost, and other top level administrators to respond to questions submitted by the audience. It also included context for the forum, and a list of demands developed to address the problems.

The forum was larger than expected. It was held in the largest auditorium on campus, which seats 1700. Two additional sites on campus were set up for overflow. The event was broadcast at those sites. Both sites were also full to capacity and students were turned away.

If you are interested in watching the webcast, go to the I-Resist website. It has a link to the webcast, but also to the page from which you can download software necessary to view the webcast. Or if you wish, you can go directly to the webcast page:

Central to the forum is the issue of representation, with students (and UIUC's mascot) dressing in ways thought to be the way that African Americans, Latino/a Americans, and American Indians dress and behave. These ways are, of course, stereotypical, whether they are deemed negative or positive.

These representations are familiar to all of us who create, review, teach, and otherwise use children's books. I've written here previously about how much "Chief Illiniwek" is similar to Native imagery found in popular children's books.

Many individuals gave powerful statements. Please view the forum and consider sharing it with your classes and colleagues.

And, if you're interested in following UIUC's mascot issue more closely, I created a blog on that topic. Recent developments? The regalia worn by the student who portrays Chief Illiniwek was bought from an Oglala man in the 1980s. He was destitute at the time. He family wants the regalia back. A few weeks ago, the Executive Committee of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed a resolution calling for the end of Chief Illiniwek, and for the regalia to be returned to them. My blog on this is called A Native Perspective on Chief Illiniwek.

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