Committee: Time to start thinking about mascot for UI

Committee: Time to start thinking about mascot for UI

URBANA — A student committee says it's time for the University of Illinois to start thinking about a new mascot for the Urbana campus.

The report from the Ad Hoc Committee on the Exploration of a University Mascot recommends that the campus "put forth a process to select a mascot," an idea endorsed by the Illinois Student Senate.

The student panel, which took public input at meetings and via email, concluded that while student and alumni opinions remain divided, a mascot would be an overall benefit for the campus.

"It's been nine years since the Chief was retired, so this might be a good time to move forward," committee co-chair Mark Schaer said Thursday.

"Students here on campus don't really have anything tangible at their athletic events. Where there used to be Chief Illiniwek, there's sort of a void there. The thinking was we could give people something to rally behind," he said.

The committee planned to deliver the report to administrators by Thursday, Schaer said. Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson plans to meet with the students to discuss the report, spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

The UI retired Chief Illiniwek in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA and others who argued that it was racist.

Created last fall, the committee said its mission was not to replace the Chief or choose a mascot, but investigate whether the campus was ready for one.

It concluded that a mascot could provide considerable marketing and branding appeal, boost school spirit, appeal to younger students and fans, and help combat continued use of offensive images of the Chief, especially during the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day drinking holiday.

The committee's 14 members took input from students, faculty and staff members, alumni and community members. They emphasized that they would not rehash the Chief debate and that the "Fighting Illini" nickname and the "Three-in-One" music were outside the committee's purview.

Faculty and staff members expressed "overwhelming" support for the idea of moving ahead with a mascot, Schaer said. They argued that the use of Native American imagery can affirm negative stereotypes; that the timing is good, with the UI's upcoming sesquicentennial; and that a mascot could be a "unifying emblem" for the campus, the report said.

Overall student testimony was split, but more were in favor, Schaer said.

By contrast, community members and alumni were strongly opposed, he said, estimating the alumni split as 70-30 against. Some alumni wanted to "move on" from the Chief, with one writing, "The Chief provided alums with many wonderful memories, but he is no longer around. Think of all the memories we are not having without a mascot."

But many community members were unhappy with how the Chief was retired and said pro-Chief students and community members were under-represented. One said the "loudest voices" support a new mascot, but supporters of the nearly 100-year-old tradition "are abundant on this campus and don't feel a need to comment further what they have already expressed time and again."

Schaer and co-chair Alex Villanueva also met with the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, which has two athletes from each Division I team who unanimously supported the idea — though one expressed concern that a mascot not "trivialize" the UI's image, the report said.

Students who favored a mascot suggested that, without one, Chief imagery would be perpetuated, "instilling a sense of hostility and hurtfulness, particularly against a majority of those who identified as Native American," the report said.

Opponents said they didn't believe the university needed a new mascot, and fans "would rather not be forced to adopt a mascot at all." Given the strong feelings of Chief supporters and proponents, one student said that having no mascot was "the closest to a middle ground that we will find," and some felt a mascot would actually worsen tensions.

"Additionally, members of the Marching Illini, including some who were in favor of a mascot search process, were concerned about possibly opening the door for more drastic changes to other gameday traditions," the report said.

Students also argued that the effort ignored past student initiatives, including a 2013 referendum on a campus mascot in which students voted for "no change."

The committee report recognized that its recommendation "does not have a unanimous following and urged administrators to ensure the process is transparent and includes all stakeholders.

The committee also said it's also important, as part of the process, for the campus to officially recognize the Chief as an important part of the UI's history and traditions.

Further education and discussion of the Chief and related issues is also essential, especially from Native Americans who are "too often silenced and stereotyped," the report said.

The committee didn't endorse any particular mascot options, but discussed the advantages of imagery such as Sassy the Squirrel and former Illini great Harold "Red" Grange. Sassy, a takeoff of the infamous Quad squirrels, is used on by the Office of Admissions to attract potential students, and T-shirts have proved popular. Red Grange has become a rallying point for athletes and fans, the committee said.

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PSL wrote on April 15, 2016 at 7:04 am

How many sad and mad people do you think will whine in this comment section about how they don't get to watch the old dancing stereotype at halftime anymore? I'm going to least nine sad and mad people. 

EqDoc wrote on April 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

The Fighting Lincolns!  We could have a giant Ab dancing around!

Tyronius P HoggLegg wrote on April 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

How about the "Safe Space Seeking,Post Gender, Passive Aggressive Social Justice Warriors" of Illinois???

InTheMorningCU wrote on April 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

We can rename Grange Grove to Trigger Town! We can add a new fight chant to the repertoire--"ILL-INI", followed by "LGBT-QQIAAP"! This is going to be so Inclusive!!!

jeisom wrote on April 15, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Actually, I kinda like "Fighting Illini Warriors". Could be tied to Illinois' veterans of war.

jlc wrote on April 15, 2016 at 12:04 pm

I'm still amused that there had to be a committee to decide whether it was time to move on rather than just, you know, moving on. But I'm glad they came to this decision.

BruckJr wrote on April 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm

March out the Appeasing Cantor so that the fans can show their appreciation.

Illiniwek222 wrote on April 15, 2016 at 4:04 pm

At first, after reading the article, I felt a little shaky, like I was being micro-aggressed against. But then, after reviewing the pdf of the actual report, which appears to be drafted by a junior high student council, I feel much better.

I'm back in my safe place, confident that there will never be a "first-ever" mascot. The Chief lives on.  

Barky the Clown wrote on April 15, 2016 at 4:04 pm

No...just no.  I see epic University fail coming fast.  - Mad and Sad Alum

mgd wrote on April 15, 2016 at 8:04 pm


What is the point of a mascot? Old-fashioned and weird. Drop it, already. There are so many more important things to deal with. This is divisive no matter what. The place is crumbling around us. Students are struggling without enough money. This was and should be an amazing place. Drop this subject once and for all.

Mary Gates DeRosier

Rocky7 wrote on April 15, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Here's ny nomination  for a safe mascot name that won't offend anyone (except a computer chip):

"The Dancing Pixels"

JimOATSfan wrote on April 15, 2016 at 10:04 pm


Illinois 'Orange & Blue'

Mascot: a student character named WIT; or a Red Grange character named WIT in Orange and Blue of course.


'Fighting Illini' and the chief mascot (bless us all).


hokyshmokes wrote on April 16, 2016 at 11:04 pm

A Red Grange character?! That's great, just what the University needs, something else named after a dead white man. It's about time we stop the perpetuation of the white cis male patriarchy. I reject your privilege!

I propose a Galloping Ghost mascot, to wit, a riderless horse. Since ghosts are invisible, and the Galloping Ghost will not be assigned a sexual orientation, race, or referred to by anything other than neutral or inclusive personal gender pronouns, every person in attendance will have the opportunity to interpret and embrace the Galloping Ghost in the manner in which they are most comfortable. 

JimOATSfan wrote on April 17, 2016 at 12:04 am


RPeterE wrote on April 16, 2016 at 12:04 am

Sassy the Squirrel is the absolute stupidest idea for a mascot for athletic sports teams. Rather than some lame mascot idea that is demeaning and embarrassing to our athletes better to have none. 

Bear Spirit Animal

Tom Napier wrote on April 18, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Oh is my face red! I was about to offer an opinion (which I am … empowered … to do despite the anti-Chiefers thinking I’m not) about how preposterous that anyone in a University of Illinois leadership position, student or staff, could ever conceive of “sassy the squirrel,” much less admit it in public; that “sassy the squirrel” creates serious questions about the decision-making competence of the UI administration; that “sassy the squirrel” is the lamest representation for the UI since the so-called victory shield; that “sassy the squirrel” will make the UI the laughing stock of the Big Ten (see the Michigan State Spartan blog site) and elsewhere; that it’s such a bad idea no one could possibly embrace it … and then it hit me. It is really, really such a bad idea, no one could possibly go along with it. It’s a joke! April Fools! The joke’s on me! And I bit, hook, line, and sinker! Gotcha! Well played, as they say! It is a joke, isn’t it? Please tell me it’s a joke.