The University of Illinois announced today that they would stop their traditional practice of playing “war chant” music at athletic events, a decade after they discontinued the use of their Chief Illiniwek mascot at the NCAA’s behest. That should be a step in the right direction, or at least a step away from the racist and grossly appropriative one. But the announcement—an open letter from athletics director and former Illinois football player Josh Whitman—is pretty lukewarm on the whole thing, making sure to assuage the concerns of everyone who’s sad that the war chant is no more without ever explicitly addressing why the war chant has been done away with in the first place.
Here’s a nice sample paragraph, one where Whitman assumes that his “sadness” about the move is shared by all of the students and alumni he’s writing to:
Because I am one of you, on a personal level, I share part of your sadness with our recent decision to discontinue playing War Chant at our athletic events. Like many of you, I have fond memories of watching Chief Illiniwek perform, and War Chant was, to a large degree, the soundtrack of my football career. For me, both events evoked feelings of pride, unity, and confidence. As a younger man, I assumed the thousands of people around me experienced similar emotions – and, in fact, I think many did.
That’s followed by Whitman’s realization that there are some people who do not automatically feel the same way he does and these people’s feelings actually matter. The words “Native American” or similar are curiously absent from this paragraph, as they are from the whole letter:
Today, I understand that my emotions were not shared by many connected to our University. And as I have spent more time around these issues, my feelings have evolved. For some, Fighting Illini Athletics has been a source of division, not unity. Segments of our University have felt unwelcome at our athletic events. Regardless of whether you agree with these sentiments, at a minimum, we must acknowledge that these feelings matter. How we make people feel matters here at the University of Illinois, where we strive to be a beacon for inclusion in an increasingly polarized world.
He goes on to announce that the athletics department has a new mission statement—“Unify. Develop. Inspire. Achieve.”—and that they actually silently decided to discontinue the war chant in the spring, even though it would have been easier to go with the status quo. They just conveniently stayed quiet about that decision until this week, when students playing the war chant at a soccer game were asked to stop even though the president of the university hadn’t even been told yet. Overall, such unification. Good development. Inspiring. An achievement.