“Change is necessary and overdue”: A Letter Regarding the Chief

What follows is a letter written by a friend to the UIUC administration regarding Chief Illiniwek. With her permission, I have shared this letter here to help amplify her voice. TW for suicidal ideation and gun violence.

To: Chancellor Wise, the Board of Trustees, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and all Native American, Indigenous, First Nations and Aboriginal People

April 3, 2014

My name is Xochitl Sandoval, I am an indigenous student here at UIUC. I write this to you as a condensed statement and explanation of my experience as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I hope it finds you in a good way and is met with a receptive spirit. What I write to you is very personal and very sacred because it is about my life, and the legacy of disrespect and racism towards myself and the indigenous people who lived on this land and who continue to bear the unbelievable burden of having to fight for respect. This letter is not only for you, but it is also a statement that I intend on circulating to as many places and people as possible, so if some parts are written in a way that is not meant directly for you, it is because they are for the larger audience.

On March 11, I had the thought that I should commit suicide. On March 11, 2014, I specifically thought “blow your brains out on the quad.” My process was as follows: Write a letter to Mr. Jamie and explain that this whole Chief situation was so unbearable, and the apathy on behalf of Administration so painful, that it was obvious that nothing was going to change. Maybe suicide was the way. I would then purchase a gun, load it, go onto the quad, stand facing Union, bring the gun up to my temple, and pull the trigger.

Maybe by committing suicide, you, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, the Board of Trustees, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Administration will realize that no, I am not exaggerating about the emotional, physical and spiritual pain that seeing the former-yet-still-lingering Chief mascot has on me.

On March 3, 2014, I wrote an email to my Spanish professor expressing my concerns as a student in her class. One student had been wearing sweatshirts with the name ‘Chief’ on them, and a second came with a sweater that had the image on it. In this email I articulated to her that as a student, I had rights that had been outlined by the University that ensured every student would have “freedom to learn, free and open expression with limits that do not interfere with the rights of others, respect for the dignity of others, and personal and institutional openness to constructive change.” I explained to her that as an indigenous student, this image and every likeness to it represented a complete disregard for American Indian culture and spiritual practices, and that every time I saw it, it was not only an emotional stab, but also an impediment to my academic success. In the student handbook in Section 1-302 Rules of Conduct, number 5 states that “engaging in behavior which is so persistent, pervasive, or severe as to deny a person’s ability to participate in the University community” is grounds for discipline, which every likeness to the Chief is to me. Additionally, the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access outlines in Campus Climate Section 2 “Hostile Environments” states that a hostile environment, which is prohibited by university policy, consists of, but is not limited to “unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance, by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment” which the image and the people who continue to use the image have created for me.

Upon emailing this letter to her, I went to see the Dean of Students to create a formal complaint. The Dean referred me to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access to meet with an attorney to further discuss this situation. I met with the attorney on March 11, after which, while walking across the quad on my way to the Native American House, I watched myself purchase a gun and commit suicide on the quad.

The attorney told me that the only two options that were available to me were to either mediate a conversation with the students who were using the Chief name and logo, or to give a presentation to my class without mentioning my complaint about how this mascot was offensive to some American Indian people. To the first, I was appalled. I did not understand the logic in having to confront the people who were the ones hurting me, and so I said no. To the second, I stated that if she had a responsibility to take action, to go ahead, but for me it would not be a solution. A presentation is something I can, and have done. I was not, and am not, looking to settle for a band-aid solution to this problem that has caused such an immense psychological damage to not only myself, but countless others.

I, along with countless others, have had to endure the unbelievable and unjust burden of educating a racist image so deeply imbedded in the psyche of this Campus.

As I look through the Campus Spirit Revival facebook page, I feel the nauseating anger take hold of me again. People such as Bryce Dirks attacked us in such ignorant, hateful and hostile ways that now I remember why I do not feel part of this campus. I remember now why I am not going to commencement. I am reminded again that I am defenseless, because the people who have the legal obligation to protect me as a student are turning their backs and allowing these people to degrade us over and over again. I am reminded why I do not feel safe on campus. I am reminded that I regret having come to this University and that I would not encourage any minority student to come to this Campus. Granted, there were many professors and TAs who were very encouraging and supportive during this time. There was also the Native American House which from the beginning was my place of refuge. However, a place of refuge is not enough. I knew that there was somewhere I could run to, but that eventually I would need to leave that place and confront the massive student body that continue to display Chief hats, pins, shirts, sweaters, stickers, and etc.

I am going to backtrack a little in order to discuss Campus Spirit Revival. CSR, as you surely must have heard of, is a student organization which was founded by Tom and which I became the President of when he graduated. It was created in order to find a new symbol for the University, being that since the Chief was retired, we do not have one. A contest was held for students to submit their ideas, but this proved to be a difficult process since pro-Chief people became very aggressive towards us, stating that they wanted a ‘no change’ option which ultimately led to the results being withheld in moot court.

Given that it seemed as if students did not yet understand why the Chief had been retired in the first place, and did not seem open to dialogue through facebook, CSR decided to collaborate with the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization to host a forum called ‘Tradition or Transition: A Forum on Chief Illiniwek’ on April 16, 2013. We attempted to contact the Honor the Chief Society, Students for Chief Illiniwek, Stop Campus Spirit Revival in order to work with them. Our thought was that facebook discussions were turning very negative and no real progress was being made, additionally, being online made things very impersonal so perhaps face to face dialogue would be better. We contacted Honor the Chief Society, Students for Chief Illiniwek, and Stop Campus Spirit Revival members, none of whom wanted to collaborate with us.

Josh Good, a graduate of UIUC and an administrator of the SCSR facebook page, after my repeatedly telling him that we wanted to work together to format this event as was best possible, told me that he was not interested in a “massive circus” or public debate although debate had already been raging online. He also said that with 1,900 people, it is hard to control the extremists. Well, here the University could have stepped up in defense of we the students who were being attacked.

Through our CSR facebook page, people such as Eric Arno Hiller called us traitors to the University as well as tyrants, Timothy Thilmony called us uninformed people who were just looking for a cause, John Tuttle called our organization an “embarrassing display of buffoonery at the UI,” Ben Cheslow Kraatz said we were “popularity-seeking, incredibly unintelligent people.” I along with others, withstood all of this without any support from the University. More recently, I was told I was acting like a “personally wounded party, and like a child” and that my militant attitude towards the Chief issue was not the way to address this issue, and that pro-Chief people needed time to heal, again discrediting my emotions in a way that I have unfortunately become all too familiar with through interactions with the University.

The forum itself was interesting to say the least. Ivan Dozier Jr., the “chief himself” did show up. He did not help create the event, he never replied to my message, and he did not let CSR know ahead of time he would be there. The only reason we knew to expect him was through a friend.

Another CSR member and I presented powerpoints we had created for the event, after which we opened up the dialogue. He presented himself as the person who does the unofficial chief portrayal, a member of the Native American House, the President of Students for Chief Illiniwek, and the student liaison of the Honor the Chief Society, although he did not come representing any of those groups and I, in two years, have never seen him at the Native American House.

Dozier stated that the dance and regalia were not authentic, and that he found solace in that. I’m not sure if all of the Chief supporters are aware of that, but thankfully, at least he is. He stated the psychology study on the effects of Native mascots on people was wrong. He stated that it is not possible to find something that offends no one, and told us this heartfelt story of his childhood:

“When I was little I had a harrowing experience with animal crackers because I couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be eaten or not, and I couldn’t eat animal crackers, but we can’t ban animal crackers because of that”

Last I checked, I’m not an animal cracker. And people in general aren’t animal crackers. To compare the two is faulty logic.

His position, as is the erroneous one of many others, remained that the image could be used to educate, since it was already there. He also said that we should work with the pro-Chief people, because they were the ones offended and they were not going to let go of their mascot easily and that because the tradition was embedded strongly, people might even turn to some “good ole vigilante justice.” This is the kind of student who you protect, and the student who, in your recent sell out with the Honor the Chief Society, will be able to continue performing in regalia.

The event ended and everyone went their separate ways. Again, it was clear that the pro-Chief side has no real goal besides bringing the Chief back. Dozier claims to want educational efforts to happen, but I have never seen him at the Native American House for any event, nor have I seen the pro-Chief side, with its thousands of supporters, hold an event to honor native people. The closest I have seen have either been hosted by the Native American House, the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization, and the Archeology Student Society. NAISO and the Archeology Student Society, in fact, held an amazing event called IndiVisible, at which I did not see “Native-loving” Chief supporters at.

And so this is my condensed testament about my experience at the University of Illinois. These are the kinds of students who are on your campus, and this is the situation you have neglected and even encouraged through your settlement. I leave thoroughly disappointed with you, Chancellor Wise, the Board of Trustees, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for having done nothing to address this horrendous issue, none of which achieved their mission to support and most importantly, protect, minority students on campus. I may not matter, because I am not one of the wealthy alumni who can threaten this institution by withholding my funds, but I have a voice. And I will be now, and forever, an alumni who will make sure that other students are aware that the racism and culture of silence and apathy is so fully embedded into this place that it is truly dangerous to be a student here.

If you want to do something, I suggest you enforce the wonderful language you use in your statements and handbooks. I suggest that you start with the classroom environment, and demand that students and professors act in accordance to the rules set by the University and refrain from wearing any and all items which may include the word “Chief”, that may contain the image of the former mascot and any likeness to it, which includes but is not limited to, sweaters, shirts, jerseys, buttons and stickers, which are triggering and which interfere with not only the quality of education but also the emotional well-being of students. Of course, you will find yourself attacked if you do this because the pro-Chief side does not want to change. But change is necessary and overdue.

I hope that you take it upon yourself to act. Until then, I will work hard to reach American Indian and Indigenous people to stay far from this University, to look elsewhere for their education, because this University does not have the capacity to create a safe environment for them, and I would not want them to feel as I have. There are far better institutions for them than yours.

Zenka Tlazohcamati,

Xochitl

Update 3/4/14 9:00 am: Xochi has posted the following message on her Facebook, which I thought would be important to add here:

“Hey community. Just wanted to let ya’ll know that emotionally Im doing well, no more nasty thoughts

With that, I feel that the University might turn this into a “xochitl’s emotions” issue as a tactic to not talk about the Chief.

Lets remember that this is not a suicide issue, this is a #‎BanTheChief‬ issue.”

 

Taking Action to Make Children’s Literature Better for People of Color

For the month of February, CCBC-Net, a listserv operated by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a conversation about diversity and multiculturalism in children’s literature, with particular emphasis on discussions on new—and fabulous—books by Native authors: How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle and If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (both of which I had the pleasure of reviewing for the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). This conversation is, of course, a well-trod discussion that often seems to move in circles. The conversation did, as expected, get somewhat tense; however, I do feel that we did have some remarkably insightful posts generated, and the rich and varied experiences of many of the people on CCBC-Net brought some wonderful points to the forefront.

I primarily sat and watched this discussion play out, although some private conversations both gave me opportunity to vent and the chance to consider more deeply the fundamental truth that “buying a book is a political act,” as list moderator K.T. Horning often reminds us, using the words of Alexis DeVeaux. As the conversation came to a close, new list member Sarah Hamburg, with great foresight and clarity, condensed our talking points and offered suggestions for activism in this arena. With her blessing—she says that “it comes from a joint discussion and belongs to everyone”—I share her words with you. I want to draw your attention to personal and professional choices that I hope to—and hope that you might consider, too—make in order to make children’s literature a better space for people of color.

  • Many of the ideas focused on personal activism: actively buying books representing a diverse range of voices; committing to ongoing challenges (Crystal Brunelle mentioned The Birthday Book Challenge, Diversity on the Shelf Challenge, and Latino/as in Kids’ Lit. Challenge); recommending and promoting diverse books to others when and wherever possible; asking for them at bookstores, schools and libraries; using social media in those efforts and to draw attention to issues of representation; writing reviews on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads; and stepping out of personal comfort zones to make connections and advocate on these issues.
  • For writers and illustrators, people also suggested personal activism would include: stepping out of artistic comfort zones; consciously considering questions of representation, audience and perspective in one’s work (including whether the perspectives and voices of people of color tend to be explored/presented in a heavy context); soliciting and listening to feedback from members of the communities one is writing about when going outside one’s own culture; and also considering questions of cultural bias and representation while conducting research and evaluating sources.
  • The same considerations hold true for those publishing, buying and using books with children, promoting books to parents and teachers, creating library and bookstore displays… etc. including whether those books receive the same quality and quantity of promotion, and whether they are somehow held apart from other books.
  • Many came back to the importance of smaller presses in making space for new voices. This included Tim Tingle’s publishers Cinco Puntos Press and RoadRunner Press, and Lee & Low Books. (Would it be helpful to create a list to share here of independent publishers who are actively publishing “multicultural” books?) Lyn Miller-Lachmann talked about visiting smaller presses at conventions to order books and create buzz. Jason Low talked about “liking” Lee & Low on Facebook and using social media to promote them and their titles, and purchasing their books through independent bookstores. Are there other ways people can actively support small presses, or that smaller children’s publishers can perhaps share resources to further cross-promote with one another? (Some consortium, such as an umbrella website?)
  • People also mentioned the importance of writers’ events and conferences, such as the Native American Literature Symposium, VONA Voices, the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Muslim Voices Conference, the Comadres and Compadres Writers’ Conference, and the Carl Brandon Society. (Would it be helpful to compile a list of similar conferences/organizations?) Is there a way to facilitate more outreach to events such as these, and also encourage more inclusion/ promotion of writing for children at those events?
  • Along with such conferences, people talked about the possibility for individual outreach to writers/ artists who are working in other areas, but who seem like they might be suited to the children’s book field (like Debbie Reese introducing Eric Gansworth to Cheryl Klein.)
  • It’s exciting to see new businesses forming, like Cake Literary and the Quill Shift Literary Agency (where you can sign up to be a reader.) Are there other ways people could help promote them?
  • People have also started an amazing array of blogs, websites and tumblrs that focus on aspects of diversity in children’s books. These include Diversity in YA [Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo], Rich in Color, American Indians in Children’s Literature [Debbie Reese], The Dark Fantastic [Ebony Elizabeth Thomas], CBC Diversity, Lee & Low’s blog, Cynsations [Cynthia Leitich Smith]… (I know I’m leaving many out! Please add them– would a list of these be helpful, too?) Would it also be helpful to create some sort of consortium here as well– like the Niblings umbrella?
  • In addition, people asked that “diversity” be an inclusive idea, and not limited to one group or set of groups.

Along with these existing or already mentioned avenues for activism, I had a few other possible ideas based on issues people have raised. Some may well already exist in some form, and if so please excuse my ignorance! I also don’t know if some may feel segregating rather than inclusive, or otherwise problematic– but here they are:

(All initiatives mentioned below would include leadership in design and implementation by people from the communities in question.)

  • School Library Journal/ Horn Book…etc. might create a regular column, written by a Native, PoC, and/or LGBT, and/or Muslim, and/or disabled contributor, which might discuss issues regarding children and books in different communities, or highlight reviews of recent books by people from those communities, or discuss collection development/ classroom use issues related to problematic books, or be published in a bilingual format, or simply be a space always kept open for additional voices from less-represented communities.
  • Development of a course within the Massachusetts 5-college area, in conjunction with the Carle Museum, for Native college students/ students of color to study illustration and writing for children.
  • Outreach to a group like 826, with centrally-organized workshops about writing/illustrating led by people in the children’s book community.
  • A group within SCBWI for Native artists/ people of color to meet and speak about issues in the field specific to their communities, and provide resources and networking opportunities.
  • A subsidized (with some form of community grant?) internship at one of the children’s publishing divisions or literary agencies for a person of color or Native person.
  • Some form of organized mentorship program for aspiring authors/ illustrators.
  • A bilingual division of something like Net Galley, featuring bilingual books, and other books by Latin@ writers and illustrators.
  • A group made up of members of publishers’ marketing departments, convened to study marketing strategies and approaches, with leadership that includes, outreach to, and input from members of different communities.
  • Some e-publishing/ print-on-demand initiative or business, focused on bringing back out-of-print titles by people of color.
  • Also, something like the New York Review of Books Classics, which would bring back into print/ reissue/ highlight classic children’s books by people of color– including international titles. (Or, actively petitioning the NYRoB children’s collection to include more such titles– do they currently have *any* books by people of color on their list? I couldn’t find them.)
  • Concerted outreach at events like Bologna to find and acquire titles by international authors of color/ indigenous authors for publication in the US.
  • Something like the PEN New England Discovery Award (which recognizes the work of unpublished children’s writers, and provides an opportunity to have that work read by an editor at a publishing house) that would be national, and would recognize work by unpublished Native/PoC writers. It could include a specific category for nonfiction.
  • Inclusion of Toni Morrison’s book Playing in the Dark (and Zeta Elliott’s article “Decolonizing the Imagination”) on the reading list at MFA Programs focused on writing for children, with a curriculum that includes more lectures/ discussions about race, writing and the imagination– not just in the context of discussion about writing outside one’s own culture.
  • Focused outreach as part of recruitment initiatives for MFA in writing for children programs (perhaps writers’ conferences like those listed above would be one good place?) and promotion of existing opportunities like the Angela Johnson scholarship at VCFA.
  • A centralized resource for parents/ teachers that would look at still-read classics and more contemporary books, and examine different responses/ perspectives on those books related to representation. This might include strategies and perspectives on classroom use. (A sort of “critical engagement” resource, with different perspectives- like that of Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature.)
  • More inclusion of issues related to representation/ cultural bias in reviews of current nonfiction and fiction titles.
  • Some central website to publish/ promote lists of recommended titles (such as the Top 100 Books by Indigenous Writers, Recommended Books regarding the Middle East, Lee & Low’s Pinterest pages, and the many other lists of recommended books shared here…) There might also be the possibility of compiling and promoting new lists, based on the needs and interests of those who work with children. Maybe individual titles from the lists could be highlighted on a rotating basis as well.
  • Lobbying and activism on related issues, such as funding for public schools and libraries, and support of those institutions (as well as businesses like independent bookstores) on the local level.

Toward a History of Children’s Libraries in China: An Interview with Yang Luo

Yang Luo is a PhD student at GSLIS UIUC who studies the history of children’s libraries in China. Ever since she successfully defended her dissertation proposal last spring, I’d been anxious to hear more about the work that she’s been doing. Plans for an interview (conducted under the auspices of the Center for Children’s Books) were put on hold when I found out that Yang would be conducting field research in China this past summer. I’m delighted to say that I’ve finally had a chance to speak more thoroughly with Yang about her research to feature it through the CCB. Though it’s slated to be released with the CCB newsletter on December 2, you can read the full interview with Yang on the CCB website. Here are some highlights from the interview:

Yang says of her research, “I’m specifically looking at the time period from 1912-1937. I begin with 1912 because that year marks the foundation of a new Republic of China after hundreds of years of imperial rule. I end with 1937, at the dawn of the Sino-Japanese War. I’m interested in the development and genesis of children’s libraries during this time, and my initial investigation has found several factors during this time period—modern education reform, the public library movement, the Republic’s investment in child welfare, influence of Western librarianship, the appearance of children’s rooms and children’s literature—that converge to form children’s libraries in the early twentieth century.”

She says, “As China pays more attention to youth services today—we’re seeing more programs and libraries for young people being opened—I hope my research will answer the first question we should ask: ‘Where did we come from? How did we get here?’”

Yang says she draws her inspiration from Hu Shi, an advocate for education reform and young people in China during the time period she’s interested in. He was greatly influenced by John Dewey, and I think he’s someone I’d like to draw inspiration from as well. Yang shared this quote during our interview:

“It is not a disgrace for a nation to lack a navy or an army. It is only a disgrace for a nation to lack public libraries, museums, and art galleries. Our people must get rid of this kind of disgrace.”

Again, please check out the full interview with Yang to find out more about her wonderful work.

Queer Library Alliance Goes to School

On November 15, I had the opportunity to present alongside Rae-Anne Montague, currently assistant dean for student affairs at GSLIS University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/soon to be assistant professor at the LIS program at University of Hawaii Manoa, at the American Association of School Librarians 16th National Conference. Our session examined incorporating materials and programming with LGBTQ content into school libraries. Here’s the abstract from our presentation:

This session includes three sections. Firstly, we review options for selecting materials with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) content to support curricular and personal goals. Secondly, we look at challenges to providing access to resources. Finally, we consider possibilities to develop collections and programming with GLBTQ content aligned with community needs. We will offer ideas and incorporate examples to encourage participants to share knowledge and engage in open discussion throughout the session.

You can check out slides from our presentation in both PowerPoint and PDF format. We also provided a handout of YA nonfiction with LGBTQ content generously provided from a work-in-progress by the wonderful Christine Jenkins and Michael Cart. Our presentation also was written up in School Library Journal, if you’re interested in audience reception.

Rae and I had a lot of fun at the conference, and I believe our session went well. Here’s a picture of us spooked by some not recommended materials.

Rae and I spooked by Not Recommended materials

the frightening nonrecommendations

“How can you know what is missing if you’ve never met it? You must know of something’s existence before you can notice its absence.”

I am noticing an absence.

I woke up this morning to the news that author E.L. Konigsburg died last night of a massive stroke.

I cried.

If someone asks for my favorite book, I always hesitate, but if they say I can start to list things, The View from Saturday invariably comes up. If someone asks for a favorite author, it’s much the same. Konigsburg has always made that list.

 I don’t think there is any feeling I like more than the one that someone is glad to see me. -Silent to the Bone

Konigsburg wrote middle grade contemporary realistic fiction. Which has always been one of my favorites. But there’s more than that.

I don’t know if there’s ever been an author who’s granted young people such a magnificent voice. Who took young people’s concerns so seriously and displayed them so eloquently. Her characters are so thoughtful and selfish, foolish and wise. I’ve never aspired to be like someone so much as I aspired to be like Claudia, or Julian, or Margaret Rose Kane.

I was sometimes a boy, and I was often a bitch…but what I always was, was superb. -The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

I think Konigsburg’s work had such a profound impact on me because I was able to identify with her characters so much. Many of them are a little awkward, a little nerdy, a little queer, often bookish, a little bit of a mess, and often with a good heart but not knowing how to express that.

Every now and then, a person must do something simply because he wants to, because it seems to him worth doing. And that does not make it worthless or a waste of time. -The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

I honestly don’t have any lofty things to say or eloquent ruminations. I never met Mrs. Konigsburg (although it was always a fantasy), but I feel certain that if I ever had, she would have been the type of person to have called me a “friend.” And it makes me very, very sad knowing that such a person is no longer in the world.

I think the most important thing I ever learned from Konigsburg’s books is to pay attention. To take those little moments of joy and survival and let them fill you up.

She thought that maybe, just maybe, western civilization was in decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o’clock. -The View from Saturday

I don’t know that I’m too invested in “western civilization,” but I do think that more of us would be able to get along in our lives better if we took time to take tea at four o’clock.

Do something for me, will you?

Will you find a collective that helps up find your chops? Will you give someone a voice? Will you unearth a tragic secret and make sure it’s known? Will you fight to keep something beautiful in the world just because it’s beautiful?

Will you run away to a museum sometime soon?

For E.L. Konigsburg.

Because I think we need it.

When Racism is a University Tradition: An Open Letter to the UIUC Community

This is a conversation I really didn’t want to be having. I didn’t think I would have to still be having this conversation. But, we must. Some friends and I (primarily driven by Suey Park) collaboratively worked on this open letter to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign community. If you’re an alum and want in on the signature: tweet, FB, email, or comment. I’ll update periodically. I am happy to add signatures, but will not do so without an explicit statement directed to me stating so. I want to respect people’s autonomy and privacy in this as well.

Dear University of Illinois,

In 6 years, much can be accomplished. Lincoln Hall and the ARC have been renovated, the SDRP has been built, the basketball team has finally beat Indiana, and many of us have walked across stage with a bachelor’s degree. Apparently, though, 6 years has not been enough time to remedy the school’s history of exclusion and cultural appropriation.

Having graduated from the University of Illinois, we are shocked to hear The News-Gazette report that students get to the vote to uphold racism on March 5-6, 2013. Are we really allowing this in the year 2013? This so-called “democratic” system the Student Senate and University uses is incredibly flawed if we point out this whole argument is about protecting underrepresented students, underrepresented meaning “not an adequate amount,” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. The annual School Report shows there are currently only 25 undergraduate students, 14 graduate students, and 2 staff members identifying as Native American on campus. Do we really think this is a fair vote? The results of this ballot will only give Chief supporters a tangible way to prove how massive and in the majority they really are. Allowing students to vote “yes” or “no” on an issue as complex as the Chief does not simply allow each student to have his or her own opinion but rather gives majority students the choice to have power over underrepresented students. Or, should we say, continues to allow students to have power over underrepresented students.

The Student Senate and this campus’s administration usually do not take a side when it comes to the Chief; it is out of privilege that neither is forced to take a side. Many students who fight against the Chief do so for survival. We do it because we hope to make the university a more inclusive space for those who come after us. Silence or neutrality chooses the side of the oppressor. More than the expected jeers and sneers from the pro-Chief fans, we will remember your silence. This silence is something commonplace in many atrocious events in this nation’s history. In a space where Chief-fanaticism exists, the silence of the administration not only allows for the growth of this fanaticism, but legitimizes it. The university has had 6 years to educate students on this issues instead of hoping it would die out. Instead, their silence has left students to fight for themselves and amongst themselves.

Less than 100 years ago–in 1916–the Ku Klux Klan was an honorary student organization at the University of Illinois. Since then, the university has continually been a site of racist incidents. To ignore our school’s racist history is not to understand fully the Chief debate. Although we have since then “welcomed” students of color to attend our university, recruitment and retention of students of color is still less than ideal.

Stephanie Fryburg and her colleagues at the University of Arizona, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan have done multiple psychological studies on the effects of mainstream characterizations of Native imagery on Native students’ self-efficacy and academic well-being. In an article published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Fryburg and her colleagues found that exposure to Native imagery, including images like Chief Illiniwek and Disney’s Pocahontas, had a pronounced negative impact on Native students’ well-being, while the same imagery actually boosted White students’ self-efficacy. Not only does imagery like Chief Illiniwek not properly “honor” Native peoples, it is actively discriminatory in this way when propagated on a college campus. We have seen countless incidents of cultural misappropriation protected as humor or tradition. From the infamous “Tacos and Tequilas” party to commonplace games of “cowboys and Indians,” it becomes evident that not enough has changed. Perhaps we can argue that modern day racism is all in good “humor,” but only one year ago Prof. Dharmapala was stabbed 6-inches into the throat as a result of racist ideology on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Such shocking incidents make us reasonably question the neutrality of such “humor.”

Other times, racism is upheld not as “humor” but as “tradition”. Is it of any surprise that 2nd and 3rd generation Chief supporters feel entitled to this mascot, along with other societal advantages? It shouldn’t be, since it is conceivable that these student’s ancestors contributed to pushing Native Americans onto reservations and stripping them of their rights, land, and dignity to begin with. Even those Chief supporters who do not have such connections benefit from a tradition of excavating, destroying, and abusing Native land and culture; nor have they faced the very real and potent difficulties that shape the lives of Native peoples living in this country today. Now our generation fights over the symbol that still remains a reminder of “tradition” to some and of death to others.

Let’s start calling it as it is. The real, choice students will be making on March 5-6th is not simply choosing the Chief or a new mascot. It is choosing whether or not to go backwards and reinstall a racist mascot or choosing to move forward toward new traditions. We can find a mascot that can represent all of us. We can find other things to fight for.

Sincerely,
The Undersigned Embarrassed Alumni

Thaddeus Andracki
Suey Park
Katie O’Brien
Maja Seitz
Andrea Herrera Orrala
Kate Higgs
Kaytlin Reedy-Rogier, class of 2010
Melorie Masacupan
Patsy Diaz
HoChie Tsai
Stephanie Anne Ladrera Camba
Erin Andriamahefa
Kimberly Oco
Maria Koularmanis
Shikhank Sharma
Gabriel Machabanski
Nicholas Wood
Meghan Bohardt
Xavier Diaz
Kathlyn Oco
Ariann Sahagún
Jessica Nicholas
John-Ben Soileau
Benjamin Barnes
Erica Manzo
Xanat Sobrevilla
Emma Murdoch
Rae-Anne Montague
Matthew Knight
Pryscilla Bolander
Marina Sivilay
Shola Rufay
Tiffany D. Johnson
Sarah Rowe
Margaret Olson
Gwendolyn Wydra
Sarah Park Dahlen
Marcela Reyes
Peter Odell Campbell
Liz Watts
Jessica Harrison
Samantha Chavez
Samantha Sednek
Richard W. Chang, Esq.
Glynn Davis
Philip Slater
Matthew Francis Rarey
Erin L. Castro
Dawn Scanlon
Bryanna Mantilla
Jessica Kursman
Samuel Jesse
Jerry Diaz
Robyn Bianconi
Thomas O’Malley
Hilary Morris
Esther Ikoro
Patrick Brown, Champaign native, UIUC alum
America Campos
Liz Elsen
Ashley Rayner
Dan Wright
Masood Muhammad Haque
Jean Lee
Alexandra Bellis
Christine Dasko
Eric Schacht
Sunah Suh
Ryne Dionisio
Kristin Drogos
Aaron Parker
Tina-Marie Smith
Lucas McKeever
Steven Rosado
Sam Sednek
Zane Ranney
Christie Barchenger
Bert Berla
Andrew Y. Kim
Lorrie Pearson
Hector Mandel
Brian Bell
Rudy Leon
Benjamin Stone
Bryan Anderson
Chloe Edgar
Jessica E. Moyer
Deborah E. Dorsey
Ingbert Schmidt
Mathew J. Carroll-Schmidt
Mary E. McCormack
Alex Orozco
Debbie Reese
Elizabeth Berfield
Kent Carrico
Dana Robinson, Ph.D.
Mark R. Linder
Regina Serpa
Emily Henkels
Konrad Taube
Leah Zinthefer King
Sivling Heng
Roy Saldaña, Jr.
Lee Roberts
Thomas Webb
Jessica Dickson
Lily Huang
Viraj Patel
Justine Chan
Emily Wilson
T.J. Tallie
A.J. Kim
Berenice Ruhl
Jennifer M. Snapp
Kathleen Bowman North
Rafter Sass Ferguson
Raúl A. Mora, Ph.D.
Ryan Kuramitsu
Julian Ignacio
Thomas Joseph Ferrarell
Maren Williams
Victoria Murillo
Rosalie Morales Kearns, MFA
Stephanie Chang
Valerie Enriquez
Lukasz Wojtaszek
Amber Buck
Mike Suguitan
Brian Kung
Janaki Patel
Homari Oda
Suraiya Rashid
Christine Asidao
Archaa Shrivastav
Kathryn Conley Wehrmann
Dustin Lovett
Cynthia Wang
Kati Hinshaw
Isabel Diaz
Pei-Lynn Juang
Phillip N. Lambert
Jane Emmons
Damian Satterthwaite-Phillips
Amanda Beer, PhD
Ruxandra Costescu, PhD
Scott Kimball
Amanda Karkula
Lynsee Melchi
Victoria Mwansa Seward
Frank Hassler
Julia Dossett Morgan
Lauren M. Graham
Robert Mejia
Catherine Knight Steele
James D. Bunch
Gretchen Madsen, MLIS
B.A. Davis-Howe
Eric Mills
Rose Stremlau
Ian Binnington, Ph.D.
Carlos Daniel Rosa, Student Senator Emeritus
Amy Strohmeier Gort, Ph.D.
K’La Albertini
Eva Au
Guillermo Delgado
Cassie Connor
Michelle Birkett, Ph.D.
Adrian Bettridge-Wiese
Anusha Narayanan
Julie Boone
John Miller
Jeffrey DiScala
Emily Litchfield
Tyler Guenette
Sidoni Gonzalez
BWS Johnson

edited 2/25/13 22:59 to add signatures
edited 2/25/13 22:35 with more signatures and signature caveat in preamble
edited 2/26/13 11:07 with more signatures
edited 2/26/13 12:00 with more signatures, changed “Illini” in 2nd to last p. to “Chief supporters”
edited 2/26/13 13:45 with more signatures
edited 2/26/13 16:15, more signatures
edited 2/26/13 19:53, more signatures
edited 2/27/13 6:53, more signatures
edited 2/27/13 14:24, more signatures
edited 2/27/13, 20:10, a few more
edited 2/28/13, 20:52, one more
edited 3/3/13, 12:03, one more signature
edited 3/12/13, 18:09, another signature added

Of Trolls, Horror, Movies, and Calling Dibs

I’m writing this mostly to let people know that I’m still alive and thinking, but also to pull something my digital acquaintance Kerry Mockler has pulled over on her blog: calling “dibs” on ideas for papers.

Over break, I’ve been watching a lot of movies. Like, a lot. Probably more than is good for me. Two that have stuck out at me more than others are House, directed by Nobuhiko Ōbayashi and The Night of the Hunter, the only film ever directed by Charles Laughton. Both of these are horror films (by most classifications), both involve children (and childhoods) in critical ways, and both of them are–to say the least–outliers of the genre. I had been turning over the films in my head and trying to make some interesting connections between the two, when I found that Evan Calder Williams has already done so in a remarkable essay in Film Quarterly. In “Sunset with Chainsaw,” he suggests these two films resist typical readings of horror, but instead offers a new method of reading horror politically through focusing on visual environments as opposed to horrible content. Williams’s reading is provocative, and it’s spurred me to think through how it might be developed. Again, since I’m particularly interested in understanding childhoods, I’m wondering how focusing on horror through the lens of the child might affect this reading. There’s also some interesting feminist stuff floating around those films (particularly House), which I’d like to explore. Finally, I’d love to see if some of the stuff garnered from reading childhood horror in these films might apply in horror in children’s fiction. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn was–for some reason–one of my favorite books when I was around eleven or twelve, and I’d both love to write a paper on it and revisit it trying to understand childhood horror.

Relatedly, I also watched Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles recently, and–maybe because I’ve been thinking about horror so much (in addition to watching these films, I’m working on a horror film collection development project for my job)–I’m wondering if there’s a way of reading the film as horror? The orgasm as a monstrosity? What might the implications of that be? (Has anyone already done this? Beyond calling it “horror,” I can’t find anything to suggest they have.)(Also, I may hold off on this one until I see what Annemarie Jagose says in her new book.)

I also don’t normally blog about books I’ve been reading a whole lot on here, but I recently finished Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo, and that also make my mind start racing. I guess it seemed relevant because the book (serendipitously) dealt with a lot of things I’d been reading about lately: monstrosity, queerness, affective geographies, some tangential relationships to childhood studies. The book also could bear with some fantastic readings in terms of posthumanism, critical animal studies, and ecocriticism (particularly with regards to the project of pet-making and the allegory of taming our own “wildness”), but I’m less grounded in those approaches.1 I guess it’s also interesting because I’ve been thinking a little about Moomins recently–I’m starting a class in Scandinavian childhood studies and children’s literature next week. The connections between Finnish trolls is remarkable–although the trolls don’t resemble each other all that much, I think there’s some particularly interesting things I’d love to explore between the two. (I believe it is possible I may have already found a term paper for this class?)

All of this to say, “hello!” and “Please don’t write about any of these things before I get a chance to.”

1. As a side note, Troll also contains one chapter that is literally the best description I’ve ever read of the experience of being a queer person in a smallish city, like the one I live in now.

“…Our city’s unique, but with a slightly different nuance for each of us. In a little town like this, we don’t have our own streets, shops, or galleries, but we do have our individual hidden topography, our own street corners. A man’s smoking a cigarette on a bridge, and we see him quite differently from everyone else: we take in a hand movement, a furtive glance, which, for others, is just visual bric-a-brac…”