Open Letter To Chancellor Richard Herman

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Dear Chancellor Herman:
I just finish reading the media advisory notice that states: “As administrators
planned this year’s Homecoming parade, they created a policy
that they interpreted was in keeping with the retirement directive. In
reviewing that policy, Chancellor Richard Herman has determined that
the interpretation was overly broad. The University values free speech
and free expression and considers Homecoming floats, decorations, costumes
and related signage all representations of such personal expression.”
My understanding, confirmed by staff, is that the revised policy
will now permit Homecoming float makers to utilize the “Chief Illiniwek”
logo or images, in the name of “free expression.” This is an
unfortunate decision on the part of the administration. The implications
of this decision are significant, in ways that the administration
fails to understand.
For example, taking this line of thinking further, if a float maker
wants to use KKK imagery or a noose hanging from a tree on a homecoming
float, is this now also acceptable under the auspices of “free
expression?” Or if a float maker wants to use images of people copulating
or nude participants on a float, would this also be accepted as
the freedom of personal expression? And if not, why not? Certainly if
public nudity is considered immoral or at least inappropriate, why not
public racism?
Moreover, there is a blatant disregard here for the fact that “The
Chief” is the direct product of racism, with its long history of appropriation
and commodification of Native Americans—the same populations
that were almost completely exterminated by white conquerors.
Hence, the “Chief” image is no more an innocent cartoon figure,
than would be a Klansman (or noose) image.
As such, the administration’s lack of courage to hold firm on the
policy of the “no Chief logo or imagery” represents another assault to
Native Americans and all people of color who have suffered and continue
to suffer humiliation, disregard, and exploitation, at the hands
of those with decision-making power in this institution.
The lack of backbone shown by the administration on this issue and
the lack of consistent administrative commitment to counter the further
racialization of Native Americans on this university campus is
truly disappointing and disheartening.
Please understand that it is not that we fail to recognize that this
is a tough issue for administration; but it will never compare with the
humiliation, frustration, and exploitation that so many students, faculty,
staff, and administrators of color must contend with on a daily
basis, as a consequence of racism, power, and privilege on this campus
and in the surrounding community.
Hence, this administrative decision is a betrayal to all those who
have struggled tirelessly for decades to change this policy. So Chancellor,
for how long will we need to be subjected to such immorality
and disgrace? How long more will we be treated like step-children of
the powerful overseers of this institution?
How can we believe that we have a place in this so-called Inclusive
Illinois, when we can’t even depend on the administration to act with
dignity and respect, on such an important issue?
Historically, public institutional expressions of racism in this society
have only changed when people had the courage, dignity, and
love to stand against such immorality. With so many colleges and
universities across this country showing real commitment and wherewithal
in stopping the use of “Indian” mascots, why not UIUC? How
can such a prestigious university allow itself to behave so backward,
in the face of so much suffering?
Prof. Antonia Darder

About Antonia Darder

Antonia Darder is a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a longtime Puerto Rican activist-scholar involved in issue's relating to education, language, immigrant workers, and women's rights.
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