Gonzalez, Mijares, Bloemen, Malm, Medina: A Party theme gone awry

The right way to respond: Did the “Colonizers and Colonized” protesters go too far?

The uproar over the Latin American Students Organization and Yale European Undergraduates mixer scheduled for Friday night was not the result of malicious intent in the international student community. The title was chosen with the intent to satirize the shared history of two regions and groups of friends who clearly fell on opposite ends of the phenomenon, not to cause offense. Once the organizers realized it was inappropriate, they apologized.

Concerns such as those expressed about “Colonizers and Colonized” in recent days deserve to be taken very seriously. Such concerns should be addressed, however, with the aim of furthering understanding and coming up with a workable solution. The hostile manner in which many of the complaints were articulated was both inappropriate to the situation and counterproductive to fostering constructive dialogue about cultural sensitivity and identity on campus. This controversy underlines the necessity for such dialogue.

Ironically, some of the people who took offense at the mixer’s title expressed their opinions in a blatantly offensive way. Racial and ethnic tensions on campus are clearly important topics that need to be addressed, but Facebook comments such as “I’m exercising some serious tact [be]cause [I]’m about to blast this fool,” “I think it’s time to go in on some people” or “Sometimes we have to [b]eat the [d]aylight into [p]eople” do little to create meaningful dialogue. Messages urging students to “break bottles” on the heads of the “ignorant” party organizers alienate groups rather than bring them together.

In addition, jumping to the conclusion that LASO and YEU intended to poke fun at the world’s oppressed peoples seems a little premature. For international students, it is not necessarily intuitive how topics will affront people; standards for political correctness differ greatly across the globe. Consider last week’s “Third World War” mixer, whose event picture included a nuclear blast, or the recent Cold War-themed party, neither of which generated much controversy. There is no innate, universal “common sense” that allows one to judge whether something will be considered offensive. Rather, it is a sensitivity one develops while immersed over time in a culture different from one’s own. Both international and American students can benefit from broadening each other’s perspectives in this respect. Constructive intercultural dialogue is vital.

Had the protestors sought a positive dialogue with the LASO and YEU boards, cultural misunderstandings would have been clarified, the name would have been changed and both sides would have learned from each other. By writing hostile posts on online forums, approaching the administration and urging disciplinary action, the opportunity for a constructive learning experience passed and gaps between the groups were widened.

International students are motivated to attend Yale in part by the prospect of improving their cultural understanding of the United States. At the same time, American students benefit from interacting with people from different national backgrounds. As a result, we all broaden our perspectives. But this ideal can only be reached if people initiate a respectful dialogue when a delicate issue arises, and remain open to different perspectives. In the future, let us use events like this one to learn and work together to achieve mutual understanding. After all, that’s what Yale is all about.

Laura González, a former LASO board member, and Lucia Mijares, a current LASO board member, are juniors in Trumbull and Pierson colleges, respectively. Gemma Bloemen, Ola Malm and Octavio Medina are former board members of YEU and seniors in Pierson, Timothy Dwight and Trumbull colleges, respectively.

Comments

  • Bravo

    Encore! This Article is a graceful step in the politically correct dance. To my own pet peeve, people at Yale care little about some very offensive items and much about others. Its time someone politely stood up and said: we care about making this campus a welcoming place, but we will not be bullied by the slings and arrows of the outrageously correct.

  • -

    Well said!
    I commend you guys for standing above the offending comments that were made in reaction to this party.

  • Y

    Classy and on point. I commend LASO and YEU for taking the high road and reacting so rationally. Very well done.

  • y13

    Amen!

  • y12

    very well said!

  • Y10

    I believe your mixer theme was inappropriate, but I applaud your defense and your thoughtful comments on cultural values. I, for one, find many party themes at Yale (e.g. “CEO’s and office hos”) that no one complains about inappropriate–and no one complains because they are culturally acceptable.

    I think the question of humor is important too. Have we gotten to the point where humor about subjugation is okay, does no harm, and should cause no offense? This is a question that is equally relevant to colonialism and work-place sexual harassment. Last year, I did not object to the Gone with the Wind screw theme–I think it’s an area in which we should be able to take the positive and leave the negative. In the colonialism theme and the sexual harassment theme, the positive to be taken is the humor, and the task in planning is to make sure the humor outbalances the harm/potential for offense. I think you guys miscalculated. But I would hope that this opens the door for everyone at Yale to give thoughtful pause when selecting party themes.

  • Steve

    Well said.

  • yalie

    The protesters showed how immature and childish they were through the facebook wall posts. I am a Yalie with no affiliation with any of the aforementioned groups, and I am embarrassed to see the protesters’ peurile responses to the party theme. There are more constructive ways to deal with the problem. Get over yourself. The way they responded was an embarrassment to the Yale community.

  • Lucas Jullian

    Excelente artículo

  • International10

    I am surprise there are so many positive responses to this “column”. In cases like this, whether harm was intentional or not, it is the responsibility of the organizers to simply apologize, and not attempt to assign blame elsewhere or refuse responsibility. Yes, there are many events at Yale that may be considered offensive by some, but that is not an excuse for your own foolish error. Trying to blame the mistake on being international students is frankly insulting to the international student community at Yale. Many of the co-signers of this letter are seniors. As a senior international student myself, I find the excuse that “we didn’t know it would be offensive” to suggest that you spent the past four years at Yale with your head in the sand.

    Stand up and apologize, don’t try to discredit your accusers or to claim innocence based on “cultural differences”. You’ve been here for four years. Even if you don’t agree with Yale’s PC approach, you are aware of it.

  • yale 12

    excellent

  • JE ’09

    Very well written, balanced, and constructive: precisely what these debates often lack. Good job, guys

  • caius

    Protester sensibilities were hurt that were more manufactured than sincerely held. Who but LASO and YEU could mock the colonial history between Latin America and Europe? The event was not a celebration of oppression but the ridicule of a concept long abandoned.

  • 2010

    @International10

    The organizers are not the same people as those who wrote this op-ed.

    The organizers apologized for their mistake, as far as I know. An official email was sent by each group, acknowledging the error, and the event was cancelled.

    The point of the op-ed was to be positive and constructive and to try to explain that political correctness is not a common universal concept. No one is justifying the mistake or trying to divert blame.

  • Pierson11

    I would like to echo International10’s post by saying that you cannot play the “I’m international, I didn’t know” card to legitimize your ignorance. There are history books in every part of the world. Your choice in commemorating a genocide is just plain stupidity.

  • Latin American Senior

    Great article, friends. You kept your heads cool even when my blood started boiling when they called Latin Americans ignorant, foolish, etc. You apologized firmly for your mistake – and did so with class and respect. Some other groups should learn to accept apologies, rather than choose to fight fight fight. It’s not us versus you here…it’s almost like you are itching for reasons to get offended and start a fuss. Chill out.

  • Hasib

    Awesome piece that highlights exactly what went wrong in this situation. Good job guys!

  • oh, come on

    do you guys really think that because youre international, you can get away with things just based on “cultural differences” and “we didnt know it was offensive.” that is universally offensive. period. dont play the we’re-minorities-too card, because you dont understand.

  • Well Done

    You have kept your calm under fire, and truly have handled this well.

  • @18

    hahaha you make no sense! ??

  • #18 – colonialism, or even empire, themed-parties are not obviously offensive in 99% of the world–http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/feb/12/emmanuel-empire-may-ball

  • Ashamed on behalf of the Yale intl community

    Really? Octavio, Laura, Lucia and Ola, is this the best you could come up with? Really? I am ashamed at the poor reasons that you’ve put forth in your defence. An apology that is followed by an evasive rebuttal retracts from the intended gesture of the former. It raises the question of whether the apology was genuine or not.
    Regardless of the intentions of the party organizers, it is not to be expected that they meant no harm. If I mocked you and hurt you by doing so, the fact remains that I have been hurt, and not that you did not mean it. Again, a very poor and shameful excuse.
    You are joking with life. You did not think that such a theme would provoke protest and anger and you dare attribute this to your being international? Excuse me, but in case you did not realize, more than half the world was colonized and the remaining were the perpetrators of the crime itself. It is not about cultural differences in political correctness, it is historical fact and a legacy of painful injustices against billions of people.
    I am scared of the future, if this is what seniors and juniors of such a diverse and well-established educational institution can offer by way of rationale. I am scared because more likely than not, you will rise to the higher echelons of power (thanks to your popularity, for I know that you are all quite popular) with your misguided notions of justice. I am scared that you will then rule over the people that you so little understand, whose history, grievances and cultures you so little appreciate, whose protests you so publicly dismiss.
    Shame.

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