By Sarah Arndt '14
"Fun" apparently has a very narrow definition on Skidmore's campus – it's whatever is perceived as easy and comfortable for a certain demographic of students. Essentially, Hayat was told that the way they wanted to host THEIR (!!) event was not "fun" enough for Skidmore's campus. This begs the questions, who get's to decide what is fun? What is fun (i.e. easy and comfortable)? And for who?
In the case of "powder day" (aka Holi), "fun" was defined not by those whose culture we were partaking in and had nothing to do with ensuring a positive experience for those who celebrate Holi regularly. Instead, it was the same people deciding and the same people benefiting from what is easy and comfortable for them. Which means that Holi got reduced to throwing color powder on each other because it would be too "hard" (and not "fun") to make it what it actually is.
It seems unclear to some people why this is "cultural appropriation" and why it's problematic – I've heard complaints of making too much of a "fuss" of "shaming" etc. I think it's a matter of contextualizing - this is cultural appropriation because it is just one more step in a long history of colonization, exploitation, and commodification of another culture. The other day I read something that compared cultural appropriation to an experience in a restaurant abroad that tried to celebrate 4th of July. This is NOT the same thing (a non-sensical comparison on many levels…). When Hayat was stripped of their autonomy to decide how to celebrate Holi and what makes it "fun," we see another manifestation of the same oppressive power dynamics - when we think about the historical relationship between Indian and South Asian societies and Western white society, it is Indian and South Asian culture that has been stolen without permission or proper credit, removed of its intended significance, and then commodified and sold for profit. In today's world, one example is that "Holi" becomes "powder day" (or color runs) and nothing more.
Furthermore, it's extremely frustrating to me that decision-makers assumed that taking the time to learn about another culture and traditions is not "fun" for students. This is a poor decision in multiple ways. It sends the message to students who actually celebrate Holi that their celebration as it exists is not fun. It also promotes the idea that actually learning about a different culture is not fun – as it might make students feel uncomfortable, alienated, or that they enjoy themselves less – and that therefore we should avoid it. Well, I for one think that sounds fun. And even more so, on a campus where the dominant culture means that students experience microaggressions, alienation, and discrimination on the daily, well, too bad, if learning about Holi isn't fun or comfortable or easy for students (even though it is)... get over it.