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Racist Conquest of Campus Dialogue

Americans think that where knowledge is concerned, more is always better. We don’t believe there are things we would rather not know, or things that only some of us should know–just as we don’t believe there are points of view that should not be expressed, or citizens who  think too wrongly to vote. We believe that the more information and ideas we produce, and the more people we make them available to, the better our chances of making good decisions. At least according to a recent article in Forbes about America’s Best Colleges, knowledge is our most important business. The application and preservation of knowledge are the central activities of a civilization- as it is a connection to the past and an investment in the future. Preventing students, the most malleable members of society, from being able to form their own opinions  not only deprives them of knowledge, but abridges their rights to free speech and peaceable assembly.

STUDENTS at the U of I have been stepping up against PARTISAN ADMINISTRATORS!! (The latest FOIA request reveals troubling actions by some administrators acting against the students when the U of I Student Government was going to officially admonish the administrators and call for greater accountability. More on this soon…)

Certain emails that were recently revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign stirred up some controversy for their racially charged language and ‘conspiratorial attempts to squelch student events’. For those who haven’t read them, they’re a real treat. The first email describes a Chancellor eager to ban all students from using the Assembly Hall because he didn’t want students to get to see the ‘Next Dance’ (a re-enactment of the former university symbol’s halftime performance). A few emails later we hear about a Vice Chancellor that ‘appreciates the fact that they have been trying to get in the way of a student event’. Throughout these emails, we witness some administrators’ eagerness to limit our rights.

For those who do not understand the intricacies of the ‘Chief Illiniwek’ debate, I’m guessing you’re not Illini fans. The prevalence of ‘Chief’ apparel, stickers, and flyers throughout campus lead me to believe that the amount of people that honor this symbol vastly outnumber those offended by it. In any case, the fact that the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and a Dean of students spent so much time ‘trying to get in the way of student events’ and planning protests to the ‘Next Dance’, make it hard to believe that these people can successfully extricate their political beliefs from their professional one’s.
The Champaign Circuit court has ruled that the chief is a political issue, and despite the interest, I would like to urge administrators to stop working so hard to violate our rights and avoid taking sides on political issues. Perhaps some of them need to take a step back and consider the ‘freedom of speech for me but not for thee’ attitude inherent in their decisions. Frankly, there are times when I’d like to silence people who disagree with me- especially if they sound ignorant, but I recognize the role of dialogue and people being able to share diverse views. What next? Can you imagine the fury and uproar if there were similar actions taken against a group championing Palestinian rights, LGBT issues, or even abortion?

Regarding the latest email scandal,Tazewell County State’s Attorney, Stewart Umholtz, has said, “The responsibility of citizenship demands that citizens defend our liberty. Too many citizens are content to let their government trample on their rights since they don’t want to be bothered with such matters, until it is too late. The administration should commend students not attempt to silence them. Allowing free expression of ideas is essential to preserving truth.”

I’ve interacted with the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations twice. So far my experience with these members of the campus administration has included: a weekend retreat where students were subjected to the anti-Chief Illiniwek documentary, “In Whose Honor?”, a discussion panel of administrators deriding the Chief and discussing the race and ethnicity of its supporters, and events on the quad, where students were given taxpayer and fee funded shirts that read, “Support University Athletics, not the Chief.”

Carlos Tortolero, a trustee of the University, once said, “People say that my problem is that I make people uncomfortable. But how can you talk about racism and race relations and make it sound comfortable? Do you have Kermit the Frog come out and sing a song? We need to be frank if we want to teach.” The problem here is that people who claim to be working to alleviate ‘intolerance’ don’t seem recognize the value of frank dialogue and are intolerant themselves.

Our commitment to diversity cannot fixate on issues like the Chief, and must include a more comprehensive approach that may not make all the administrators feel comfortable. We need to be frank in allowing students the opportunity to see what the former symbol of the university represented. Students deserve the right to decide for themselves how uncomfortable or inspired the Chief may make them feel.

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