Student gov boycotts homecoming to protest 'cultural appropriation'

The University of Illinois Student Government boycotted this weekend’s homecoming parade to protest the inclusion of the Chief Illiniwek mascot and take “a stand against cultural appropriation.”

The controversial mascot was banned from official university use in 2007 under orders from the NCAA, though an alumni group known as “The Honor the Chief Society” continues to dress an individual in Native American regalia during the homecoming parade, which was met with angry protesters this year.

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Lauren Kirby, a student in the Illinois Student Government (ISG), told The Daily Illini that “as a Native student here on campus,” she sees “things every single day” that make her uncomfortable.

“Every single time I see that Chief, every single time I am reminded about how my culture, and how my people were almost eradicated and for me that is a very hard thing to remember,” she elaborated, with a peer calling it “inappropriate” for ISG to “participate in any official way in an event that normalizes bigotry or encourages the misappropriation.”

Additionally, ISG posted videos of the previously reported on “#NotMyMascot” protest on its Facebook page, encouraging students to protest the parade in retaliation for the Chief’s participation, and later praising the success of the protest.

“The protest resulted in the Honor the Chief Society leaving the parade and campus!” the post gloats. “Other highlights: we forced the parade to be rerouted and Chancellor Jones' car attempted to push back a blockade of students before the Chancellor exited the parade without comment.”

ISG later sent out a mass email to students detailing its decision to withdraw from participating in the homecoming parade, claiming that students of indigenous backgrounds came to them “detailing the harm caused by the continued use of the Chief in university-sponsored events,” noting that they were thus “taking a stand against cultural appropriation.”

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“We will continue to fight for a truly inclusive campus by elevating the voices of our indigenous students and allies,” the email read, warning students that Halloween brings “more innapropriate representations of cultures and minorities” calling blackface, tacos, and tequila themes problematic.  

The email went on to offer “tips to make sure you’re respecting everyone at Illinois,” such as avoiding “accessories that could be described as ‘tribal’ or ‘ethnic.’”

Vice President of Illini Republicans Jack Johnson released a statement to Campus Reform on the organization’s dismay with ISG’s comments.

“This is another typical example of ISG putting perceived political correctness, as well as their own agenda, ahead of their constituents,” he said.  “At the end of the day, no one will reflect on the homecoming parade and say, 'damn, we really missed seeing the ISG.'  While the chief is no longer our mascot, he is still our symbol; his presence educates and uplifts thousands of current students and alum.”

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Johnson added that not all student senators supported the measure, suggesting that “ISG leadership had to rush to get sufficient senators to return at the end of this lengthy meeting in order to uphold a scarce quorum in order to vote on it.”

Campus Reform reached out to the university and the president of ISG from comment, but did not receive responses in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kara_kirsten