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URBANA — A student government resolution to be introduced tonight calls on University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones to revive the process of finding a new mascot.

The Illinois Student Government resolution reaffirms support for a 2016 recommendation from an ad hoc student senate committee that was endorsed by former interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson and UI President Tim Killeen.

If approved, it would urge Jones to "immediately convene a steering committee composed of student, faculty and University community members to initiate the process to generate a new mascot."

The resolution says the continued presence of "offensive Native American imagery is deeply harmful to many students and runs counter to our values of inclusion."

Sponsor Rahul Raju said the measure will likely be introduced tonight and referred to committee for further discussion and possible revisions. He hopes it could then be voted on next week.

"Between the leadership transition and other priorities, we lost track of the mascot issue," Raju said. "The intent here is to reaffirm the student government's commitment and to sort of raise the visibility and the priority of the issue of getting a new mascot."

The issue is a longstanding one for student government, but the timing was spurred in part by anti-Chief protests and other events over homecoming weekend, he said.

"I think it's been elevated over the weekend, certainly," he said.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Exploration of a University Mascot held extensive hearings and gathered input from students, faculty, alumni, athletes, community members and other stakeholders about the idea in 2015-16. The panel included people from both sides of the Chief debate, such as former Chief portrayer Ivan Dozier, though he disagreed with the ultimate recommendation.

"We tried to incorporate a diversity of views," said Raju, who served on the committee.

Testimony from community members and alumni strongly opposed a new mascot, though some who liked the Chief felt it was time to "move on." Students were split, with more in favor. Faculty and staff expressed strong support and argued that it could be unifying for the campus.

The committee recommended proceeding, saying that students don't have anything tangible to rally around at athletic events and that the Chief's retirement left a "void." The UI retired Chief Illiniwek in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA and others who argued that it was racist.

The student panel said 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 also said it was 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.

Wilson endorsed the idea in May 2016, calling the report "thorough and thoughtful." She announced a process to form a mascot committee with 10 to 12 members — students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and representatives of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

But the effort was put on hold during the transition to a new chancellor, and Jones said last winter that a new mascot was not a top priority.

Jones was not available to comment on the proposal Tuesday afternoon.

"The chancellor feels pretty strongly that we need to have a conversation, a series of conversations, to try to come to a common understanding and maybe a reconciliation. That's really the next step in the process of moving beyond where we are now," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

The student government resolution says the steering committee should "incorporate a diverse range of views, especially from students, in regard to what the mascot should be."

It also urges the university to reconsider the use of the Chief Illiniwek logo by private vendors. The UI holds the trademark for the Chief logo and allows it on some merchandise through a special licensing program in order to keep the trademark active.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union. Raju said a crowd is expected for the public comment period to talk about "events of the past week."

Anti-Chief protesters blocked part of Friday's homecoming parade, which included an unofficial Chief portrayer. And police were called to a "Meet the Chief" presentation by Dozier when a UI employee tore down several flyers for the event and was grabbed by another employee who was there.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).

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