- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - A student committee at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is looking into whether the school is ready to move on nine years after the Chief Illiniwek mascot was retired.

The co-chairs of the Illinois Student Senate committee, juniors Alex Villanueva and Mark Schaer, stress that the effort isn’t to actually choose a mascot, but to see if people are ready for one.

“This isn’t necessarily about trying to replace the Chief but getting something that our sports teams and our fans can get behind,” Schaer said.

The students differentiate between Chief Illiniwek, which the school and backers say is a symbol, and a sports mascot like at other schools, The (Champaign) News-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1TucjlO ) reported.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson has indicated she’s supportive of the students’ efforts.

“The chancellor is very supportive of the effort by the Student Senate to create a first-ever mascot for the university,” spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Tuesday. “She’s made clear to the group that any such effort should involve a broad coalition of stakeholders and that any concepts created must not contain Native imagery.”

When Villanueva got involved last fall in the student senate, he talked to students who liked Chief Illiniwek but agreed it probably wasn’t returning. They also agreed they wanted something other than the orange “Block I” as a sports symbol.

“I want to give students, future generations of Illini, something to rally behind,” he said.

The committee is holding public meetings each Friday with different groups of stakeholders, with the final session planned April 8. Villanueva said the panel will report back to the student senate in mid-April.

Schaer said that if there’s a consensus behind considering a mascot, the committee would resume that discussion next school year.


Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com

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