The University of Illinois has a long standing tradition of academic excellence.  By fielding a formidable group of internationally renowned faculty, hosting some of the most elite research and conferences and through offering a wide variety of programs the school has achieved an outstanding level of accomplishments and recognition.  The university as a whole claims a great deal of racial diversity as over 38 percent of student attendants come from non-majority backgrounds1.  With college attendance rates on the rise and nearly two thirds of high school graduates enrolling in colleges or universities2, the undergraduate student audience is becoming both pervasive and of even greater importance to society than ever before.
                The fluid shift into the information age has accompanied these trends in education and nearly every student at the University of Illinois is a regular and native user of an extensive array of information and communication technologies (ICT).  Of the various technological tools available social networking services (SNS)—websites built around extending and enhancing face to face connections and networks to the digital realm—are rapidly becoming ubiquitous and of monumental significance.  Indeed studies indicate sites such as see between a 93-97% uptake rate among undergraduates and the vast majority of participants are visiting at least once, if not three or four times a day (Ginger 2008).
       offers a remarkably accurate and immersive portrayal of student life.  Many elements of the system are of public domain to site participants and as such present an apt opportunity for social research.  Therefore by looking at both individual and group perceptions and usages of Facebook one can easily deduce observations and theories about campus climate.  The University of Illinois may boast a high level of racial diversity but the actual interactions occurring between various student populations that relate to issues of diversity are another conundrum entirely. 

The Chief and Campus climate at UIUC

                One of the most controversial and long standing debates linked strongly to racial diversity is that of the school’s former mascot or symbol3, Chief Illiniwek.  Recent years have not only seen the removal of the Chief, but an increase in racial tensions related to racial stereotype theme parties4, affirmative action protests and more.  The figure of the Chief has become representative of school pride and tradition to many students and the debate surrounding and ultimate decision to remove him after the years of resounding offense and disapproval by Native Americans inspired a great deal of resistance.  Held in parallel to the same notions of youth resistance to authority found in such phenomena as Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day5 many students have a complete disconnect from the actual damaging issues at hand and their own [mis]conceptions of what is right (or best) for everyone.  The pro-Chief cause has taken off in full force since the Board of Trustee’s decision to retire him in February of 2007, and thousands of students have voiced their support in online petitions, registered student organizations and through various protests.  Even just recently in the October 2007 Homecoming parade Chancellor Herman allowed the logo to be used on grounds of free speech and free expression6.  The debate is very much still alive among the student population and shows signs of intensifying as even more sports fans wear their Chief clothing to events than ever before and persist with overt support. 
                One of the flashpoints of debate over Chief Illiniwek has taken place on, the current digital mirror of the UIUC undergraduate population.  In January of 2007 the tensions intensified after racist remarks about Native Americans were discovered on the pro-mascot Facebook group entitled “If They Get Rid of the Chief, I’m Becoming a Racist” (Garennes 2007).  The group featured wall posts by students making statements like “What they don’t realize is that there never was a racist problem before … but now I hate redskins and hope all those drunk casino owning bums die.” Another student directed a post towards a particularly vocal Native American graduate student, threatening, “I say we throw a tomahawk into her face” (Mercer 2007). The page was taken down, but not before provoking a university investigation.
                For all of the news and media attention the threats themselves received Facebook still contains a great deal of pro-Chief material and student organization.  The single largest group on the UIllinois Facebook network is “Chief Illiniwek Forever” and it’s the only one in the top 5 to have grown in the past year7.  Of the UIllinois groups with members numbering in the thousands (there are 28) four of them are Pro-Chief groups.  Activity varies greatly by group but many are still active.  Other non-explicitly Chief groups, such as the “Class of 2008” feature the Chief logo for their picture.  In a similar vein, hundreds of individuals changed their picture to the Chief logo to protest the mascot’s removal.  Facebook continues to be reflective of student sentiments and support for the Chief.  The University has taken little formal action to counteract this.
                Following the formalized retirement of the Chief an outpouring of opinions surfaced among the undergraduate population.  In previous years the extended debate consisted largely of informed participants but suddenly with school pride in jeopardy and racial issues coming to the forefront the new social norm became a need to give an opinion for or against.  Events like the threats and more generalized discourse reveal a great deal about campus racial climate.  Student conceptions of race vary widely, but many feel the Chief is a racist figure and a blatant misrepresentation of Native Americans by a white actor and white orchestrators.  Other students feel the Chief is totally disconnected from issues of race and is only abstractly representative of disembodied elements of character such as pride, tradition, and honor.  Other opinions relating to relevance, representation, and terminology complicate the mess but in essence the debate rages on and this remains clearly visible on Facebook.
Before delving into the topic of the Chief on Facebook one must understand the history and relevance of each independently.  First a quick overview of Facebook, abridged8.

The History and Salience of Facebook

                Arguably one of the two most influential SNS websites on the internet, is a comprehensive and encompassing clustering of social networks based on universities and colleges, high schools, work places, and geographic areas.  Started originally in February of 2004, Facebook hit its first tipping point in the late summer of that year with the introduction of groups and public posting ‘walls.’  A second surge in growth resulted from Facebook’s introduction to the global public – the site went from consistently hovering around 14 million unique visitors per month to over 26 million (Comscore 2007c).  In the span of a little over 2 years - from 2005 to 2007—the user count has grown 10 times in size.9  As of June 2007 collectively Facebook now claims over 39 million members (52 million unique visitors) and remains one of the fastest growing websites on the internet (Wakabayashi 2007, Comscore 2007b, Abram 2007).  Sources vary, but membership saturation ranges between 85% and 95% at most colleges (Golder, Wilkinson, and Huberman 2006, Arrington 2005, Ellison, Steinfeld, and Lampe 2005, Jones and Soltren 2005).
                Facebook ranks as one of the most visited websites on the internet, with sources claiming as high as the 3rd most visited based on page views, and they now account for about 1% of all time spent on the internet (Freiert 2007, Abram 2007).  More than 60% of members log in daily and many sign on multiple times a day while the average visitor spends over three hours of time on the site each month (Lipsman 2007a, Arrington 2005).  The most common activities (based on time spent) overall are in descending order: browsing profiles, interacting with applications, browsing pictures, joining or visiting groups, searching for members and groups, and joining and browsing networks (Online Education Database 2007). Most users are between the ages of 12 and 24, however nearly an equal number amass in the age demographic of 35 and up (Lipsman 2007a).  UIllinois is by comparison to other networks is relatively large, ranking in at nearly 60,000 profiles10.  Preliminary studies have answered the critique that simple membership and login rates are inaccurate predictors of SNS popularity by measuring the use of the Facebook message system and finding intense patterned activity (Golder, Wilkinson, and Huberman 2005).  This study further illuminated the regularities of time use of college students and their respective social lives.  The website shows no sign of slowing down or diminishing in influence over now the entire internet user population.

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[1] UIUC Division of Management Information

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor:

[3] A great debate rages around the proper classification, this paper expresses no formal opinion

[5] An oddity of student drinking culture, undergraduates fill the streets dressed in green one day a year attending classes drunk and flooding bars early in the day.  The incident has caused so many accidents and civic unrest that town and University governing officials are now trying to battle it in any way they can.  They’ve had little luck as the vast majority of students see it as a sort of blessed day and valiant cause.

[6] The New York Times reports as the Daily Illini seems to be sick of the issue:

[7] Data published in The Facebook Project Research Proposal, locatable at

[8] A shortened version from Jeff Ginger’s MA paper, the full version is available at

[9] Based on comparisons between news reports.

[10] UIllinois statistics page on September 2007