The University of Illinois needs to discontinue its use/sanctioning of racist imagery. Chief Illiniwek was given further life and validity by the 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago. The three judges voted 2-1 in favor of throwing out a lawsuit against the university.
Judge Shelvin Louise Hall cast the dissenting vote and is my new hero. Hall stated that the “Chief’s presence created a hostile environment, especially ‘in light of the number of prominent educational institutions that have voluntarily discontinued the use of Native American nicknames, symbols and mascots.'”
Appeals court sides with Chief Illiniwek
By Michael Higgins – Chicago Tribune
September 19, 2006, 5:57 PM CDT
Dances by Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ athletic mascot, do not violate the state’s civil rights laws, a divided state appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The Illinois Native American Bar Association filed suit last year against university officials, alleging that the Chief’s performances humiliate Native American students and create a hostile environment that dissuades them from attending games or participating in other school activities.
But a trial judge threw out the lawsuit, and in a 2-1 decision Tuesday the 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago upheld that ruling.
Writing for the majority, Judge Warren Wolfson noted that in a 1996 law, the General Assembly declared the Chief to be an “honored symbol of a great university.”
If the state’s current anti-discrimination law, passed in 2003, had been meant to overturn that “glowing exaltation of Chief Illiniwek,” the state legislature would have said so explicitly, Wolfson said in a 17-page opinion.
The court’s ruling on Tuesday was one of the few pieces of good news recently for supporters of the Chief, a barefoot student in a buckskin costume and a feather headdress who performs at some athletic events.
NCAA officials have barred the university from hosting postseason tournament contests as long as the 80-year Chief Illiniwek tradition continues. The NCAA rejected the university’s appeal of that decision in April.
University officials were pleased with the appellate court’s ruling, Thomas Hardy, executive director of university relations, said Tuesday. He said the school’s trustees are studying the predicament raised by the NCAA ruling, but “no decisions have been made.”
The bar association, which sued the university and five individual plaintiffs, plans to appeal Tuesday’s ruling, said Kenneth Dobbs, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
“Every university, college and high school, except for a handful, have abandoned the use of racist Native American imagery,” Dobbs said. “It creates a hostile atmosphere. … But people tolerate it because of a misunderstanding of Native American culture.”
Judge Shelvin Louise Hall cast the dissenting vote, arguing that the plaintiffs had the right to take their case to a trial.
Hall said reasonable jurors could conclude that the Chief’s presence created a hostile environment, especially “in light of the number of prominent educational institutions that have voluntarily discontinued the use of Native American nicknames, symbols and mascots.”
But Judge Thomas Hoffman concurred with Wolfson’s opinion and went even further, saying he doubted the plaintiffs could prove their discrimination claim.
There was no evidence that the university excluded the plaintiffs from any activities or that the Chief’s performances were aimed at them personally, Hoffman wrote. He said that merely finding the Chief’s “gestures or dress … offensive” wasn’t sufficient to support a lawsuit.