Student says chief has become acceptable stereotype

By Anthony Antoine |

Published 04/09 2014 11:39AM

Updated 04/09 2014 12:41PM

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- Native American students at UI say they've been misrepresented for too long and removing Chief Illiniwek as mascot isn't enough. WCIA-3's Anthony Antoine was at Tuesday's demonstration.

A student wrote a letter to the chancellor asking for change. The demonstration was about action, or in the eyes of these students and supporters, the university's lack of action to ban clothing and songs which are offensive to Native American students. About 75 students gathered to support Xochitl Sandoval.

"This is a march for solidarity; not just for Xochitl Sandoval, but for anybody who feels racial, ethnic, cultural or sexuality-related stresses attending this university."

Organizers helped put the rally together after Sandoval wrote a letter to the university. In it, she mentioned considering suicide just to have the university pay attention to Native American struggles.

"While I'm the one that wrote the letter about the emotional impact the chief has had on me, this isn't about me. This issue is about the chief and the persisting image of this on campus and the university and administration's unwillingness to act on this issue."

The university did act in 2007. It stopped using Chief Illiniwek as the mascot, but some say that's not enough.

"I understand our university goes to many efforts to help people feel that it is inclusive environment, however, in light of this particular letter that was sent out by one of our indigenous students, it's clear there are more steps we need to take to help people find their community."

Sandoval says letting students wear clothing which references the chief is affecting her education.

"I firmly believe if this was any other racial or ethnic group, it would have been handled already."

At least one professor agrees.

"It's very frustrating when kids come in with the big chief t-shirt and they don't realize what they're doing because it's not their responsibility. They come here not knowing. It's the administration's responsibility."

The UI was to the point on whether it could ban what students or faculty wear, stating it's free speech.

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