A Fiesta Fiasco

cultural appropriation

Caroline Wilkerson ~ Staff Writer

     The University of Lynchburg is reeling in the aftermath of a weekend “Fiesta” themed party that has sparked discussions on campus about racism and cultural appropriation.

     Snapchats retrieved from students who attended the fiesta-themed party showed the students dressed in fake mustaches, wearing bandanas and sombreros and a student with a neck tattoo.

     Student and Vice President of External Affairs, Darian Geddis, tweeted, “So some students at my school threw a ‘Mexican’ themed party! This is what we call cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and absolutely disrespectful. I want disciplinary action now!”

     Student Government Association President, Davion Washington, tweeted in response, “Campus safety and security is currently investigating this matter. Please continue to report these unacceptable actions directly to campus security. Do not allow this to go unanswered.”

     The story has permeated the local community with campus-wide discussions and segments on local news outlets. A campus-wide email from Dean Smith said, “This weekend, we learned about images and videos of students holding a themed party that made light of other people’s heritage and culture. Upon receiving reports from students, action was taken immediately to begin investigating the situation.” Dean Smith continued, “We strive for a community that consistently values diversity in others and where students feel like they belong.”

     Across the university campus, the conversations have been contentious and awakening.

     A member of the Latino Student Association, Laura Arriaza, said, “I just hope from all of this drama, people will realize that what they did was ignorant and disrespectful. I understand that it wasn’t their intention to be disrespectful, but at the end of the day, it was. They may not understand it right away, but I just hope that these students will take this as a learning opportunity and open their minds to other types of people and cultures.”

      Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Dr. David Richards, said, “We actually talked about the party in my introduction to global politics class in order to help students understand why it [the party] might be problematic. Upon talking about it, we concluded that it is the intent behind the party. Richards continued, “I used an example from Pinterest where people dressed up as Frida Khalo. I asked the students, ‘If this is okay, why is the party not okay?’ They all came to the conclusion that it is the intent behind it. If the intent was to celebrate the culture, then it is fine, but if the intent is to joke or make fun of a culture, then it is not okay.” Richards concluded, saying, “I hope students can learn from this…I mean going to college is about learning after all.”

     Dean of Students, Dean Smith, said, “I hope we will be able to move forward together. Situations like these are very tough for a community, because they begin to divide people. It’s my hope that those who were involved in the situation, take a moment to reflect on how they affected the community by their actions. Their response to this situation will impact our community, I hope for the better.”

     A “Walk to End Hatred” hosted by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, will be held at noon, Wednesday, Nov. 20th, on the Dell. The slogan for the day is #HornetsAgainst Appropriation.

     Keaira Reese, chairperson of the student diversity council said, “Our plan is to ensure that while we are having the walk-out, we allow students to voice their opinions on the issues that they have encountered throughout their tenure here on campus. The fiesta party was a very uneducated act done by our students, but this leads to the perfect time for education and ensuring that students are properly educated accordingly. We are not intentionally trying to target the students, but we are just trying to ensure that we express our concern on the actions that they have made and the hurt that they have caused. This walk-out is not to target anyone, but it is to allow students who agree that this was an act of ignorance to come together as a community to fight the ignorance.”

     Arriaza, who plans on attending the walk-out, said, “The walk-out should be a peaceful and impactful experience. All of us who agreed to put it together want this to be a platform for students to share their opinions and concerns openly and publicly. All in all, I hope we can move forward from this incident as a more aware and inclusive campus.”

     Dean Smith added, “Students have the right to peacefully protest and I’m fine with them expressing themselves this way. I’m looking forward to seeing what action items come from this walk-out.”

     A campus-wide email sent on Tuesday, Nov.19th, by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, reminded students of the “Hornets Have Respect” initiative. The initiative “promotes first-class conduct and citizenship among the University of Lynchburg community.”

     The email reminded students that, “It is vital that each of us demonstrate respectfulness in all our endeavors so that our community remains one of which that we can all be proud.”