University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Student Investigated for Facebook.com Comments About School Mascot Debate

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In response to calls to eliminate the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign mascot, “Chief Illiniwek,” a group of Illinois students started a Facebook group entitled “If They Get Rid of the Chief I’m Becoming a Racist.” Comments posted on the group’s “wall” included criticism of one of the mascot’s most vocal opponents, including the statement, “apparently the leader of this movement is of Sioux descent … the Sioux are the ones that killed off the Illini indians [sic], so she’s just trying to finish what her ancestors started. I say we throw a tomohawk [sic] into her face.” A group of the school’s American Indian Studies Program faculty publicly asked the university to discipline the student, prompting the Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman to send an e-mail to the university community stating “The University will take all legal and disciplinary actions available in response to the threatening messages.” FIRE wrote to Chancellor Herman urging the university to cease its investigation, as the student was engaging in constitutionally protected expression, although the university never responded.

  • Do College Republicans hate Allah?

    April 9, 2007

    The College Republicans at San Francisco State University recently found themselves under investigation for the offenses of flag desecration and blasphemy. While the disciplinary proceedings ended late last month with a decision not to punish the student group, the investigation itself points to a troubling trend. The alleged blasphemy was directed at Islam, and the desecrated flag contained no stars or stripes. At a small anti-terrorism rally in October 2006, several members of the College Republicans stomped on pieces of paper they had painted to look like flags of the radical Islamic organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, copying the designs from […]

    » Read More

  • Mascot retired

    February 20, 2007

    The natives are getting restless in Champaign, Ill., as last week brought the death of Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ 81-year-old Indian mascot, as well as the potential expulsion of a university student for trying to save the aging warrior. Ever since 1926, Chief Illiniwek, who is normally portrayed by a university student, was known for rallying crowds and entertaining halftime audiences with traditional tribal dances. The Chief’s existence, though, came under fire after a number of Native American groups argued that mascot was offensive, racist and no longer a suitable representation of the university. This controversy is not […]

    » Read More

  • Is Nothing Sacred? Comedy Central Joins Many Universities in Caving to Threats of Violence for Depictions of Mohammed

    April 23, 2010

    Comedy Central’s cartoon hit South Park is famous for its shocking and offensive humor, targeted at subjects ranging from Queen Elizabeth to Scientology. The show’s renowned satire takes an unapologetic attitude towards goring sacred cows, and fans have come to regard South Park‘s principled stance on free speech as sacred in and of itself. This week, however, Comedy Central created headlines around the world by censoring a portion of a South Park episode. The episode continued last week’s plotline depicting Mohammed in a bear suit, which is considered blasphemous by some followers of Islam. Comedy Central’s usually laissez-faire approach to […]

    » Read More

  • More than a mascot

    February 19, 2007

    Last summer, Vernon Burton gave lectures on history and the use of computing in humanities research at meetings in Britain and France. When he finished each talk, the first question wasn’t about his research, but about Chief Illiniwek, the mascot at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and why the university would keep a symbol that is offensive to American Indians. “What people knew about the university was the chief, not the research and teaching here,” said Burton, a critic of the mascot and president of the Faculty Senate. On Friday, the university announced that Chief Illiniwek would make a […]

    » Read More

  • University of Illinois Threatens Student with Punishment for Online Speech

    February 15, 2007

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill., February 15, 2007—The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (Illinois) is threatening to discipline a student for posting a hyperbolic comment on Facebook.com that the university interpreted as a threat. The comment concerned the debate over Illinois’ mascot, “Chief Illiniwek.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on the public university to respect its constitutional obligations and immediately drop its investigation into what was unquestionably protected expression. “Administrative attempts to punish students for online jokes seem to have reached epidemic proportions,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “This is an attempt to punish students for speech that […]

    » Read More