GEO Issues Statement on “Chief Illiniwek”

The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) is committed to improving the working conditions of graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an organization dedicated to social justice, GEO has fought for the fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all graduate employees. GEO is opposed to the use of a race-based mascot and symbol that has proven offensive and detrimental to our members, the Urbana-Champaign community, and people across the nation.


The Graduate Employees’ Organization Resolution on “Chief Illiniwek”
Approved by the Steward’s Council on June 10, 2002.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) is committed to improving the working conditions of graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an organization dedicated to social justice, GEO has fought for the fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all graduate employees. GEO is opposed to the use of a race-based mascot and symbol that has proven offensive and detrimental to our members, the Urbana-Champaign community, and people across the nation. In particular, the continued use of “Chief Illiniwek” undermines the working conditions of graduate employees by:

  1. Negatively affecting recruitment and retention of Native American graduate students and faculty. Graduate teachers and researchers are deterred from working in an environment where they can expect harassment and even threats, especially if they are active around Native American political issues like the “Chief.”
  2. Creating a hostile teaching environment in which the presence of the “Chief” undermines the academic mission of the university. The “Chief” is a pedagogical impediment for graduate instructors who teach topics relating to Native Americans and other non-white groups. Because the “Chief” promotes narrow and stereotypical understandings of race and Native American culture, it not only hinders efforts to discuss race and ethnicity academically, but also undermines efforts to foster ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity in the classroom.
  3. Promoting a racist cultural climate on campus that impacts the lives of graduate employees in broader social and intellectual environments. For example, children of Native American graduate employees must attend a school system in the larger community where the “Chief’s” image sanctions and encourages racial taunting. In addition, the “Chief” negatively affects our members’ professional relationships with national and international academic associations, particularly those that focus on ethnicity and race. Further, we know that when one group is objectified, in this case Native Americans, other groups, such as international students, women, people of color, ethnic minorities, the differently-abled, and gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons, are more likely to experience similar abuses.

Mascots and representative symbols are meant to unite and inspire a group of self-identified people. The “Chief,” no matter how well intentioned, does not act as a unifying symbol and actively creates division, ill will, intolerance, and hostility on campus and in the broader community. By abolishing the “Chief,” the University of Illinois would remove a significant barrier to harmonious race relations on campus and improve the working conditions of graduate employees, faculty, and staff, and thereby improve the quality of undergraduate education.
In accordance with a unanimous vote at our April 29th, 2002 membership meeting, the GEO calls for the Board of Trustees to remove “Chief Illiniwek” as the mascot and symbol of the University of Illinois. Further, we urge the university to support and fund a Native American Studies program and establish a Native American Cultural House that would recruit and retain talented students, faculty, and staff. Furthermore, these programs would support efforts to teach critical awareness of race, and promote cultural understanding and help develop more harmonious race relations on the UIUC campus and in the broader community. By taking such steps, the University of Illinois will demonstrate its commitment to education, diversity, and serving all people of the state of Illinois.