Sunday, March 6, 2016

Microaggressions and Mini Sombreros

At Bowdoin, more campus uproar over insensitivity:
Two weeks ago, some students threw a birthday party for a friend. The email invitation read: “the theme is tequila, so do with that what you may. We’re not saying it’s a fiesta, but we’re also not not saying that :).” The invitation — sent by a student of Colombian descent, which may or may not be relevant here — advertised games, music, cups and “other things that are conducive to a fun night.”

Those “other things” included the miniature sombreros, several inches in diameter. And when photos of attendees wearing those mini-sombreros showed up on social media, students and administrators went ballistic.

College administrators sent multiple schoolwide emails notifying the students about an “investigation” into a possible “act of ethnic stereotyping.”

Partygoers ultimately were reprimanded or placed on “social probation,” and the hosts have been kicked out of their dorm, according to friends. . . .

The school newspaper editorialized about attendees’ lack of “basic empathy” . . . .

Within days, the Bowdoin Student Government unanimously adopted a “statement of solidarity” to “[stand] by all students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and recommend that administrators “create a space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.”

The statement deemed the party an act of “cultural appropriation,” one that “creates an environment where students of color, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, students feel unsafe.” The effort to purge the two representatives who attended the party, via impeachment, soon followed.
Reporter Catherine Rampell found Latino students divided over the blowup; some were offended by the party, others by the reaction:
One student of Guatemalan and Costa Rican heritage, freshman Brandon Lopez, pronounced the whole kerfuffle “mind-boggling” and called the disciplinary consequences a “travesty,” especially in light of the dining hall’s Mexican night a week later.

I have two reactions to this. One, everyone is taking it too seriously. Two, a safe space for the targeted? Isn’t that more appropriate for a case of threats, say, if somebody set up a mock border wall and spray-painted Wetbacks Go Home across the front? (#David – I think that would merit punishment by the university.) Does anyone really feel threatened by sombrero party favors?

This is not a division between whites and Hispanics – it was a Colombian who handed out the sombreros – nor a division between racists and liberals. It is a division between two social styles. Some people want a society in which everyone works hard not to offend and nobody insults anyone, where the most sensitive person can feel comfortable and the touchiest feel welcome. Others want a rowdier sort of world in which rules are made to be broken and anyone who can take an offensive joke aimed at his own ethnicity is welcome, especially if he can fire back with one about the jokester’s own background. (This was offered by my eldest son as his idea of a non-racist world.) I am sure these differences of style have always been with us, but the rise of social media has made it harder to keep behavior within groups that don’t object to it. If there hadn’t been pictures on Facebook, nobody would have cared.

We have always divided ourselves into groups within which different social styles prevail. The question raised by these incidents is whether a university camps can be made into one community with a common set of norms. It seems to me that any effort to make the behavior of rowdy college guys at parties meet the standards of the most liberal and sensitive students will only lead to endless conflict.


Unknown said...

Yes, this incident looks like a clear case of politically correct witchburning run amuck. And the punishment for the party hosts sounds downright terrifying. "Social probation"--Yipe!

Sounds like the rubric for commitment to a state institution, ca. 1890.

Or a movie title. "The Shunning, 2: Social Probation."

Shadow said...

Like the way the article ends with the bit about the Cold War party.