Student may face disciplinary action over racial comments


Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 10:47 p.m.

CHICAGO — A University of Illinois student believed to have threatened another student on an online networking site over the university's controversial mascot could face disciplinary action, a university official said Wednesday.

The university is investigating a student comment posted in December on a pro-Chief Illiniwek page on Facebook, a popular social networking site.

Officials said one post threatened to hurt a student who opposed the mascot.

"I say we throw a tomohawk in her face," the comment said.

The student will face disciplinary hearings under the university's student code of conduct, which prohibits speech advocating harm to others. A panel will determine if the student should be expelled, according to Chancellor Richard Herman.

The comments were "threats, rather explicitly calling out racism," Herman said. "The idea of the comment would indicate violence. We believe we have a welcoming environment here on campus. This is exactly the kind of thing that runs counter to that."

The incident was reported to the University of Illinois police department, which is investigating, according to Kris Fitzpatrick, interim chief of police.

The Facebook group had more than 110 members before the page was taken down. Another post read, "What they don't realize is that there was never a racist problem before…but now i hate redskins and hope all those drunk, casino owning bums die."

That student will likely not face disciplinary action because he did not explicitly threaten anyone, Herman said.

E-mails to the students were not answered. A man who identified himself as the father of one student said he did not wish to comment.

Faculty and students from the Native American House on the Urbana-Champaign campus brought the postings to the university's attention this month. The reaction by the American Indian community to comments was "frustration and fear," McKinn said.In a campus of about 41,000 graduate and undergraduate students, there are likely only about 100 American Indian students, said John McKinn, assistant director of the Native American House.

One member of the Facebook group said she didn't think the group was racist.

"I'm sure that when the group was started, I don't think that anybody took it seriously," said student Lizzy Cunningham, 19, who was a member of the member of the group before the Web page was taken down. "Students were upset about losing the Chief and were trying to get some huge movement started. I don't think they were trying to make racial statements. They were more like angry outbursts."

The university is planning a Feb. 1 town hall meeting to discuss the issue.

The university's use of an American Indian mascot has long been controversial. The issue was thrust into the spotlight in August of 2005 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced that schools that use "hostile and abusive American Indian nicknames" be banned from hosting postseason games.

Students have created at least five other pro-Chief Illiniwek groups on Facebook.

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