Friday, May 16, 2014

Event Highlight (Part 2 of 2): Holi 4.11.2014

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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Event Highlight: "Quelling Dissent" and "Beyond Buzzwords" with Environmental Justice Organizer Kat Yang-Stevens 4.16.14 & 4.17.14

Sarah Arndt '14 

OSDP and Sustainable Skidmore hosted an impressive third event for their JUSTSustainability Series - "Quelling Dissent: A Reading &Discussion About the Non-Profit Industrial Complex" and "Beyond Buzzwords: Building Praxis for Social and Environmental Justice Organizing" with environmental justice organizer Kat Yang-Stevens.

During the “Quelling Dissent” workshop we spoke about the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada all the way to the Gulf Coast. Tar sands is one of the world’s dirtiest fuels and consists of heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay, and bitumen. A proposed expansion of the pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day all the way to Gulf Coast refineries to be refined, exported, and burned - along its route from Alberta to Texas, this pipeline could devastate ecosystems, pollute water sources, and jeopardize public health. Worse, the extraction already happening in Alberta has caused the unfair exploitation and destruction of local communities who must absorb a disproportionately high amount of the negative impacts of oil sands growth while failing to receive their fair share of the benefits. Finally, the ancestral lands of many First Nations members are being destroyed. First Nation communities have not received proper consultation and accommodation, nor adequate compensation. They have lost traditional hunting and trapping territory; habitat destruction (particularly fishing grounds) and are experiencing health concerns related to surrounding air and water pollution.
In response, we discussed how and why the U.S. mainstream environmental “movement” and "big green" NGO's are failing in the context of the Tar Sands pipeline. Their failure stems directly from their inability to work with primarily-impacted communities and the direct use of racist and colonialist elements in their recruitment tactics. In doing so, the movement does not counter the political and economic conditions that make participation in environmental movements an impossibility for many people from the very communities that are bearing the brunt of degradation, various forms of violence, and genocide.

Following the Wednesday discussion, many of us were back on Thursday for "Beyond Buzzwords" which focused on understanding systematic racism in the "United States," particularly as it manifests as environmental racism and genocide. Kat spent a lot of time going over what systematic racism is and provided worksheets outlining key concepts. Kat emphasized the importance and relevancy of understanding intersectionality and creating praxis for social and environmental justice organizing work.

I thought the workshop also revealed the challenges of actualizing and embodying intersectionality. Rather than truly deconstructing intersectionality, the workshop spent a lot of time explaining racism, which in many ways, served to re-center the white experience. Thus raising the question - how can we understand environmental justice through an intersectional lens that accounts for the diverse range of experiences, opinions, and modes of communication- particularly as the “environment” is something we all experience and thus can give voice to?

To learn more from Kat, check out more of their work here:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Aneta Molenda '14 and Eliza Sherpa '14 attend the White Privilege Conference March 26-29, 2014

By Aneta Molenda '14 & Eliza Sherpa '14

In March, Eliza Sherpa and I had the opportunity to attend the 15th annual White Privilege Conference, with funding from both OSDP and SGA's JSS Activism Fund. The conference is organized every year by Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., and this year attracted over two thousand educators, professionals, activists, and students.

Jacqueline Battalora, attorney and professor of sociology at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, gave the opening keynote on the first day, giving a historical overview of how whiteness came to be invented. White people, as a separate and distinct category of people, didn't exist until 1681. What spurred this language shift from “English or freeborn” to “English or white”, Battalora explained, was Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, when Virginia lawmakers realized that a united labor force across racial lines was a threat to capitalism in the colonies. Lawmakers took a "divide and conquer" strategy and passed laws to prevent future rebellion. These included prohibiting blacks from holding office, owning weapons, marrying whites, and testifying against them. This is the first time the term "white" in relation to a group of people emerge in any official document in the United States. Thus, whiteness became a tool by which laborers were divided.

The modern concept of whiteness, however, is only about fifty years old and it is constantly changing as a social phenomenon. Professor john a. powell delivered another keynote lecture at the conference. He spoke about the modern self, a concept rising out of the Enlightenment Project which still affects how we organize our lives in hyper-individualistic ways that are racialized as white (think about the cultural shift from building houses with front porches to building houses with backyard decks). This concept of the modern Western self, powell argued, is directly challenged when we challenge the whiteness construct. This is the reason why increasing diversity creates anxiety for many whites--we are anxious about our own identity in relation to the modern individualistic self and threatened by its collapse. powell’s argument? As we challenge white supremacy we should be creating ideals and new concepts of self to take its place.

But whiteness also extends beyond our borders. United States foreign policy is centered on white privilege and has been since the first foreign policy was based on racism--the slave trade. Although we at Skidmore do a decent job at addressing racial identities, that's where our analysis often stops. Without a comprehensive understanding of the histories of both oppression and resistance, we are limited to identity politics void of deeply historical roots and trauma that extends far beyond just our experiences.

International politics and cultural appropriation are keys to understanding global white privilege. There seems to be a resistance in engaging these issues--but who is resisting? At last week's Holi celebration on Case Green, there seemed to be some tension between OSDP and Sophomore Class Council/Inter-Class Council around the issue of whether we can participate in a Hindu religious celebration without even having as much as a discussion. Some students were interested, but the small-group conversations that followed were sparsely attended.  What’s the big deal? Holi, in part, celebrates the legend of Radha and Krishna. When he was young, Lord Krishna often complained to his mother about his dark complexion in relation to light-skinned Radha. His mother teasingly suggested rubbing color on Radha's face to change her complexion. Krishna loved the idea and smeared colors onto Radha's face--introducing the color festival of Holi. Appropriating this festival and voiding it of its religious significant at elite and historically white institutions like Skidmore is, to say the least, ironic.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Event Highlight: OSDP's One Night Stand Talent Show 4.9.14

By Sofia Naqvi ‘14

On Wednesday, April 9th, the Office of Student Diversity Programs (in conjunction with the Admissions Office) held their annual Talent Show in the Spa hosted by our very own Mariel Martin and Silvena Chan! The event was PACKED! Students filled the entire Spa, brought chairs down from the second floor of Case and lined the entire upper balcony.

Circus Club performance
The event brought talent from all over the campus including breathtaking spoken word by Rashawnda Williams and freestyle by Anees Mohammed, acrobatics by the Skidmore Circus Club, hilarious stand up comedy by Alex Dorgan and Spencer Casolo, and even an American Sign Language song bringing back the 90’s by Sarah Weitzman and Zia O’Neill!

The audience was swayed by the lovely musical talents of Kevin Wang on the erhu and Patrick Thieringer on the guitar. The vocal talents livened up the entire building and the crowd! Lift Every Voice Gospel Choir sung the classic Total Praise, Kit Woof brought out the inner child in everyone with Let It Go from Frozen! Thabang Maphothoane reminded us that we each can make a difference with his impromptu acoustic guitar/singing performance, and Eli McCormack had everyone clapping to the Grandmother Song by Vienna Teng.

UJIMA Step Team
There is no doubt that the dance performances of the night rocked the entire audience! Holly Cartwright's tap dance won her 3rd place,  John Li defined what entertainment is with his amazing hip hop routine bringing him 2nd place, and Ujima Step team stole the show with 1st place with all their songs putting women at the center of the stage! Raices’ Latino mix was also a showstopper; even the audience started moving to their music.

The night was one to remember and we would like to thank everyone involved from our amazing talent to the best audience! Great job Skidmore!

If you would like to learn more about OSDP or be a part of the amazing clubs and groups that we represent, check out our Facebook page or drop by our Office on the Second Floor of Case Center!

All performers on stage awaiting results

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Event Highlight (Part 1 of 2): The event formerly known as Holi 4.11.2014

By Jonny Lynn '16

On April 11th, the annual day celebrating Holi “selfies” covered in powder was held on Case Green. Hundreds of students gathered together in white (or close to white) and threw powder at each other! There were colors ranging from red and green to purple and bright pink. The event was part of SGA’s Spring Fling weekend hosted by the Sophomore Class Council. As the event commenced, students threw colorful powder into the air and then refilled with an animalistic need to cover their friends (and enemies) in layer after layer of powder. I even got in on the selfie game myself!

Wow look at the powder in my skillfully captured selfie!
Now some of you are probably like “why is he calling it powder day? it was Holi!” Well. No, it wasn’t. Holi (pronounced Hōlī) is the Hindu festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, remembers the story of Holika and Prahlada. Members of the planning committee felt uncomfortable administering the background of this event. As such, I feel uncomfortable calling the event that occurred “Holi” as it was not.

Life lessons: Don’t host an event, especially a religious holiday, if you feel uncomfortable talking about said holiday.

What is worse is the people who participated probably won't read this and think that what they participated in is all that Holi is. Just the other day I had someone tell me they were upset that SGA’s event was ruined by people trying to keep them from throwing their powder to talk about useless information because they’re just going to throw the powder anyways.

You throw your powder, hunty, just don’t name it after something it is the furthest from accurately representing.

Anyways, I hope you all loved Powder day as much as I did. It’s always fun to get dirty and then wash it off and return to normal, #AmIRight?

(No, no I’m not right in case you were wondering. Cultural appropriation ladies, gents, and friends) 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Event Highlight: Hijab Awareness Day 3.24.2014

By Sofia Naqvi ‘14

Tuesday, March 24th marked Hijab Awareness Day at Skidmore College. Hayat asked the Skidmore campus to don the headscarf or turban for one day to gain a better understanding for the piece of fabric itself, what it represents, and to bring awareness to this topic that has created huge opposing movements all over the globe.

Now many would think. “Isn’t that cultural appropriation?” To some people, yes it is. But, as a Muslim woman who chose to bring this experience to her campus, the intention was greater than the fear of cultural appropriation.

Students Stella Langat, Ahmed Wheida, Abdu Almsellati,
Mobasera Begum tabling for Hijab Awareness Day

For many people, the hijab is a symbol of oppression and segregation. By opening up new pathways to understanding, Hayat wanted to counteract some of the controversies surrounding why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab. Our campus has a tendency to avoid certain topics that make people uncomfortable, yet we call ourselves a liberal school. We float around certain issues with fear of either not being politically correct or quiet intentions of not actually caring.

We as Americans are taught to tolerate yet is tolerating good enough? Is that really what humanity should strive for? To just tolerate? We see something different and automatically need to label it, to put it in some type of category because actually attempting to understand it seems just a bit too hard. Instead we set our way of life as the standard, and when something does not mesh with our way, it obviously is not right.

Skidmore students at discussion for Hijab Awareness Day
When someone who doesn’t know much about Islam turns and notices the hijab, they usually thoughts like “Omg she’s one of them,” or “HOW is she not hot in that?” or “I feel so bad for her, I wish I could help her.” Because what our media shows us are little girls wearing the hijab who are forced into child marriage, or dented women being abused by their husbands, or women who are sent to the back of the mosque (like the back of the bus). The thing is, hijab is so much more than that. Women actually choose to wear it a lot of the time. The Hijab is a declaration of Muslim identity, of Islamic faith. It is constant reminder of how Muslims choose to live their lives. It is a form of solidarity for the strength of the Muslim woman.

The mission statement of the event was Better Awareness, Greater Understanding, Peaceful World. The event was successful in making a dent to get a little closer to that goal. Tabling for the event involved students speaking about the role of the hijab in their lives, whether they wore it, their sister, or someone they know. Students came up to the table and learned about how to tie a scarf, the up and coming trends in the muslimah fashion scene (yes, you can wear a scarf and be a fashionista). Most students were very hesitant to come up to the table on their own, they usually would ask a friend to come up with them. But once at the table, the questions started to pour in and people were very interested in understanding the topic. Other students came up and were slightly concerned and would refuse to partake in the event.

The next day students were asked to wear the scarf to classes and around school. This was the hardest part. A lot of students wore it in the beginning of the day and then took it off after stares and questioning looks from others. A few students did push through and continue to wear it for the entire day and said that after a while they forgot they even had it on. The discussion that followed the event was really powerful and ranged from what the hijab means in America to cultural appropriation to effects of globalization to white privilege.

If there is anything that can be learnt from all of this is each individual has a voice, and that that voice is solely their own and no one has the right to speak for them or to take away their voice. Thank you to everyone who participated in any way shape or form.

I would like to end by sharing #LifeOfAMuslimFeminist article about a group of women that don’t need saving, from any man or woman: 32 Powerful and Brutally Honest Tweets from #LifeOfAMuslimFeminist