To the editor:
As alumni of the University of Illinois, we feel compelled to respond to David Hodgkins' letter of March 7 regarding the forced retirement of Chief Illiniwek.
After graduating from KU in 1984, we attended the U of I, becoming fans of Illinois football and basketball and attending many games. At each home game, a white male student with paint smeared on his face came out onto the field or court in Native American regalia and performed a dance originally choreographed by another white male in 1926. The combination of the costume, paint, gestures and dance moves were clearly based on stereotypes of Native Americans prevalent when the tradition began.
We felt embarrassment and disbelief that an institution with such a fine academic reputation would sanction such a display. Like many other alumni, we have never understood the appeal of the chief and, at a minimum, believe his routine was in poor taste and an insensitive, demeaning display by an institution of higher education.
Mr. Hodgkins, like many well-intentioned and sentimental U of I alumni and students, believes that the chief expresses respect and honor for Native American cultures. However, respect is not subjective. If the object of your respect feels demeaned by your actions, you cannot defend those actions by continuing to express your subjective belief that you are acting with respect. At long last, the board of trustees did the right thing.
Goodbye and good riddance, Chief Illiniwek.
John and Cynthia Dunham, Lawrence