Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 34

Cover of Studies in Symbolic Interaction

Table of contents

(22 chapters)
Content available
Content available
Content available

Since its inception in 1926, the tradition of playing Indian at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana (UIUC) has fostered powerful devotion and deep affection, creating powerful spaces of identification and narration for thousands of (largely EuroAmerican) students, fans, and community members. Embodied by Chief Illiniwek, this tradition had proven popular and pleasurable for more than 60 years when a small, but persistent, collection of students and faculty began challenging the prevailing uses and understandings of Indianness at UIUC. At first, these interventions appeared awkward and idiosyncratic as they worked to unsettle established interpretations and preferred practices. Over time, a vital and creative counter-hegemonic movement crystallized, fostering protest, internal efforts at reform, and critical scholarship. In conjunction with a broader, national movement (see King, 2010), these local initiatives culminated in a policy change by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that would eventually prompt UIUC, after initial resistance, to retire Chief Illiniwek. Nevertheless, alumni, fans, and several media outlets not only continued to defend the schools mascot, but went so far as to celebrate it as well. Indeed, almost immediately after Chief Illiniwek performed for the last time, the local paper in Champaign-Urbana released a volume commemorating the mascot and its import (Foreman, 2007). As much of the media and public has mourned for their “Indian” and longed for their lost traditions, they have silenced and marginalized local and national network of resistance intent to re/claim dignity, humanity, and community.

Eighteen schools are now on the NCAA's mascot pariah list. Three are Braves. Six are Indians. Four identify as specific tribes – Seminoles, Utes, Chippewas, and Choctaws. Carthage College calls itself the Redmen. Illinois has created its own tribe, the Fighting Illini. The last school on the list – Southeastern Oklahoma State – does not beat around the bush or go for modifiers. They are the Savages.

In 1993, inspired by Sansone's (1998) book on the origin of sport, I speculated about sport mascots and cultural performance in an article published in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues (Sydnor-Slowikowski, 1993). It was a tentative piece that combined some of Sansone's ethological thesis with performativity/performance studies to contemplate contemporary collective/social authenticity, imperialist nostalgia and to critique racist ideologies linked to sport mascots, such as that of Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ stereotyped mascot of a mythical Native American.

Although Leutwiler's initiative in taking to the field has been well-documented by scholars and the University of Illinois alike, the role of the UPenn figure, “Benjamin Franklin” or alternately in Illinois narratives “William Penn,” has received little attention (Spindel, 2001; King & Springwood, 2001). Leutwiler's adoption of the “Chief Illiniwek” persona, which will be discussed in-depth later, was not a response to inquiries by the UPenn band who hoped to utilize their articulated personae of “Benjamin Franklin” during a halftime skit as other scholars have suggested. Leutwiler adopted the untitled personae that became the basis for the “Chief” two years earlier during experiences as a Boy Scout and for performances at his alma mater, Urbana High School.6 Although the University of Pennsylvania solicited the Illinois band and assistant director Raymond Dvorak in particular, to create its own figure to interact with “Benjamin Franklin” in a show of “good sportsmanship,” Lester Leutwiler was already performing as an “Indian” before the supposed 1926 inception.7 In fact, his performance was so well known to his classmates at Urbana High School that the yearbook contained multiple references to Leutwiler's penchant for dressing as his Indian persona at school events (Urbana High School, 1925). Importantly, then the UPenn invitation can be read as the opening of a new arena for performances of Indianness – the sports field – not as an inciting event in the creation of “Chief Illiniwek.” Focusing on “Chief Illiniwek” as a sports mascot has eroded the larger cultural context of performances of Indianness that was being undertaken in local and national venues including Urbana High School.

At the November 24, 1997 meeting of the student–faculty Senate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the pending NCAA certification review of the university's athletic programs was discussed. At that meeting, it was recommended that the university's Division of Intercollegiate Athletics include in the goals of its Self Study,To consider whether the caricature and impersonation of a Native American Indian as the UIUC athletic mascot serves the integrity of the UIUC athletic program, the campus, and the principles of the NCAA.

This chapter argues that in 2000 the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne (UIUC), retained Judge Louis B. Garippo to moderate information gathering and to prepare a three-part report to legitimize findings that would deliberately result in no substantive action. The framework of a legal proceeding – whereby Garippo served as judge and the Board of Trustees as jury in absentia – provided the necessary “nonfictions and metaphors of traditional jurisprudence” (Cohen, 1935, p. 812) to construct vehicles of communication in which the dialogue and subsequent report on Chief Illiniwek would be seen as impartial and objective. That framework resulted in “The Chief Illiniwek Dialogue Report (CIDR),” authored by Judge Garippo and presented to the UIUC Board of Trustees on November 8, 2000.

This chapter is an exercise in speaking, letting individuals speak for themselves insofar as possible. As Marx famously put it, “they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.” The “they” were peasants, potato farmers in 1840s France, and by extension peasants, workers, and other lower class groups, not to mention women and minorities who rarely made it into the historical record, and even more rarely in their own words. To give “voice to the voiceless,” as the now old new social historians of the 1960s and 1970s put it, I consciously include here numerous speakers, arranged in two sets of different voices: quotes in the text and endnotes to further document and amplify points. With this plethora of voices, the aim is not to complicate but to speak clearly, listen carefully, and engage respectfully. To multiply the speakers speaking is the single best way to make two primary points concerning what is most important about the Chief Illiniwek mascot controversy: that the sheer number of individuals speaking out is in itself significant, and that this community colloquy all comes down to identity – who we are, individual identity, communal identity.

I was working on my Master's degree in Theatre History and Criticism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) when the university's controversial mascot, “Chief Illiniwek,”1 was removed. The activism that led up to this action received a large amount of media attention, particularly in The Daily Illini,2 “the independent student newspaper” at UIUC. Comments on the newspaper's website such as, “You individuals at The Native American House, in addition to the members of STOP [Students Transforming Oppression and Privilege], ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If you don't like living in Illinois or the United States MOVE somewhere else!!!!!” found after the February 23, 2007 article, “STOP Responds to University Chief Decision,” were all too common. Although I later became involved with the STOP Coalition and other campus groups, my initial engagements with activism in the community were virtual.

Looking back, I remember the moment, as a graduate student many moons ago (or, perhaps, it just seems like it), going to a football game my first semester at the University of Illinois and witnessing the much talked about halftime spectacle of its “embodied mascot” (King, 2007), Chief Illiniwek, performing (fake) “traditional” war dances. It was altogether too easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the moment: swaying back and forth with fellow students and alums alike as the marching band played the traditional “Three-In-One”; experiencing the crescendo of emotion; joining in the sense of collective membership in some grand idea – school spirit, or whatnot. A sense of community prevailed throughout. At the same time, it was also really, really, unsettling, recalling the mesmerizing, unified, pride-in-nation imagery running rampant throughout Leni Riefenstahl's (2006[1936]) Olympia. And this was only the first time I had experienced the ritual performance in person.

In 2003 I published in the excellent local independent left zine, Public I, the article reprinted after this headnote. Three remarks serve to introduce it. The first is that I personally can scarcely remember ever having not listened to sports-talk radio. My understanding is that the genre is just over four decades old and that is how long I have listened. On all levels I take it very seriously. The second is that this article represents an instance in which a corner of my academic knowledge, even theory, did seem able to speak to the needs of the anti-Chief movement. Finally, the article in general ways informed two bits of practice, one completely ill-fated, if not noteworthy for its backfiring, and the other slightly successful. The ill-fated one occurred in the brief period when I was in close touch and frequent meetings with administrators and some faculty leaders. At every opportunity I argued that if the university leadership seriously wanted to be rid of the Chief, it needed to question its relationship to the flagship station of University of Illinois sports, WDWS. To allow wild tirades against opponents of the Chief to serve as lead-ins for broadcasts of university sporting events was, I argued, pathetic even by the standards of company towns, let alone those of serious thinkers. When I raised the issue to administrators, nervous laughter and quick subject changes always followed my remarks. If I succeeded at all it was in conveying how influential sports-talk radio actually is. In any case hyper-cordial visits from administration spokespersons to an unreconstructed WDWS are now the order of the day.

On March 9, 1998, the elected University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) Senate, the governing body of the campus elected from its faculty and students, voted 97 to 29 in favor of the resolution,The University Administration and Board of Trustees immediately retire Chief Illiniwek and discontinue licensing Native American Indian symbols as representations of the University.At that meeting, the voices of students and faculty were heard, a supporting petition signed by more than 700 faculty was presented to then Chancellor Michael Aiken, and data from 10 other institutions were presented and attested that those colleges and universities did not experience any diminution in gift-giving as a consequence of retiring their Indian mascots. It seemed the retirement of Chief Illiniwek and the end to the use of Native American imagery in the UIUC sports program would be imminent. No one, certainly not me, thought it would take another ten years before the mascotry ended. During that prolonged interim, I requested and was granted permission to speak to the University Board of Trustees during the mandated Open Intake session of their meetings. The following represents the texts of my messages, which by Board policy needed to be confined to 5 minutes, and which by practice were never responded to.

Communications professor, Norman Denzin, describes interactional moments that create potentially transformational experiences as epiphanies, which are subdivided into the major, the minor, the cumulative, the illuminative, and the relived. In his paradigm for the examination of racialized identity formation, psychologist William Cross offers a Nigrescence Model with a four-stage approach to understand the development of Black racial identity. Cross’ model has been modified to assess other aspects of identity formation such as gender consciousness. My story illuminates how the convergence of these theories offers a new lens through which to view the maturation of raced and gendered subjectivities. This performance text uses an Africana feminism performance pedagogy rooted in Yoruba feminist philosophy to expose the reproductive violence perpetuated against Black women and recover the healing, generative force of female power.

(Koyaanisqatsi video excerpts, showing clouds, water, land.)

Whiteness. We appropriate the word to erase it. We laugh – ha, ha – whiteness. I begin with my experiences as a white, upper-middle class girl raised up in a racist and racialized educational system. This authoethnography revolves around an epiphanic moment resulting from the impact of years of involvement in this system. I look at various ways educational practices that are meant to alleviate pain, inequity, and a legacy of racism can function to allow white people to distance ourselves from the ugliness of privilege, silence criticism, perpetuate inequity, and, ultimately, limit human growth and connection.

This text focuses on the sexual violence that is often meted out to women who engage in political activism. Participants of a 2007 resistance movement in eastern India agitating against government land acquisition were disciplined severely by state-sponsored terror squads. Even though much of the struggle was covered by local and national media, the widespread rape and sexual violence against women was largely neglected. Government-affiliated women's organizations preferred to downplay the horrible experiences of the women. The only act of resistance to this silencing was by the victims who spoke out to independent citizens' groups and human rights activists.

Narrative, autoethnographic portrait depicting a “hardened” soldier's return home from military stint. By following Dig through quotidian routines – and what seems to become his search for meaning in them (as well as the narrator's search for meaning in that) – this chapter explores challenges to re-assimilation into civilian life and family dynamics for one a recruit and his family who prove semper fideles to the core.

This performance piece works against a conception of oil as a dead resource to be managed and ultimately used up. Writing historical references into a play/performance puts oil into motion, reminding us of the dynamic struggle to “discover” it in the nineteenth century. This play shows that oil was not so easily digested into modern, industrial life. New rules, norms, and practices came into being that helped early oil users cope with such a messy and explosive substance. Perhaps this oil story will contribute to our collective re-thinking about the many ways we perform oil everyday.

don't gain the world and lose your soul,wisdom is better than silver or gold.Bob Marley, ExodusEducation is of critical importance for living a meaningful life today. Education does not begin in school, and it does not end in school. Many important educational lessons begin in the home, arguably in the womb, where a mother's love and caring is communicated to the fetus even before birth. The human species has the longest dependency, so it is to be expected that young children learn much of importance in the home. When this early education builds a strong foundation, then formal schooling continues to build on this. When there are profound deficiencies in neonatal or early child care, formal schooling is greatly disadvantaged in its educational mission; the Romanian orphan children from Nicolea Ceausescu's regime illustrate this.

Cover of Studies in Symbolic Interaction
Publication date
Book series
Studies in Symbolic Interaction
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN