CHAMPAIGN — Amid ongoing debates over the idea of a mascot for the University of Illinois, the Illinois Student Council’s position is clear: They want the kingfisher.
“It’s the only mascot that has any funding going toward it; it has basically all the Indigenous tribes in support,” said student-body President Abby McGuire. “It’s the right thing to do.”
In the spring 2023 semester, the previous student council put in an order for kingfisher T-shirts designed by grad student Spencer Hulsey.
Kingfisher Task Force member Ethan Cooper served as a liaison to the council at that time to secure funding for the kingfisher merch.
He said that there was an internal debate over whether to fund the products to be given out at student council events.
“At the end, recognizing that there was a significant demand for a new mascot amongst the student body at UIUC led to the allotment of funds (and a lot of my time) to make official ISC Kingfisher merchandise,” Cooper said.
That was before McGuire or Vice President Alex Koscielski took office, but after the shirts came in over the summer, they decided to give them out at Quad Day.
Over 300 shirts were picked up in about two hours.
“It was like our tent was being stormed,” McGuire said.
Koscielski said that he spoke to many incoming freshmen who thought that the kingfisher had already been put in place as an official mascot.
“It just goes to show the community that’s already behind this,” Koscielski said.
Still, the main thing they remembered people saying about the shirts was “Can I get one?”
McGuire said that the pair have already had casual conversations with administration on the topic of the mascot.
She is also close friends with student Trustee Sanchita Teeka, who has told McGuire she plans to bring the topic of the mascot to the attention of the UI Board of Trustees.
“Obviously, we have a lot of issues we care about on campus, but this is definitely one of them,” McGuire said.
The student council also had some kingfisher pens and buttons to hand out at Quad Day, but T-shirts were by far the most popular — Koscielski said it was probably the easiest way to show support for the kingfisher.
Cooper worked with the student council, the task force’s mascot team and Hulsey to finalize a design that features a kingfisher flying in profile under the word “Illinois.”
A logo in the corner denotes the shirts’ affiliation with “ISG,” as the shirts were designed before “Illinois Student Government” became “Illinois Student Council.”
Hulsey created one of the earliest kingfisher designs using Microsoft Paint in late 2019 or early 2020.
“I had zero digital-art training; it was intended to be an example of the bird itself, but the drawing has clearly stuck,” Hulsey said.
Hulsey also created a mock-up for a mascot costume that has since become a reality and has been spotted at various UI events.
“I developed an idea for what the mascot itself could look like, as the ultimate goal for all of this was a courtside costume and not to replace any existing ‘Block I’ or ‘Shield’ or other images/names,” Hulsey said.
The student council isn’t the only campus group to adopt the kingfisher — Koscielski and Hulsey both mentioned that quite a few registered student organizations have incorporated it into their logos.
Hulsey said she was excited to share the design with the student council because they got the kingfisher onto the campus referendum in 2020.
In March 2020, a non-binding poll that asked students whether the kingfisher should be adopted while retaining the “Fighting Illini” team moniker turned up 4,222 votes in favor and 3,597 against.
In September, the UI academic senate voted on the same question, resulting in 105 in favor, two opposed and four abstentions.
Hulsey said the support results from students wanting some kind of symbol to rally around.
“I think students were happy to have something other than a letter, something special to us,” she said. “For students, by students, I suppose.”