Students express concern, support for this year’s homecoming theme

A door in the English Department was used as a place to share concerns about this year's homecoming theme. Photo by Elise Miller.

A door in the English Department was used as a place to share concerns about this year's homecoming theme. Photo by Elise Miller.

In light of fears of “cultural appropriation” in connection with this year’s homecoming theme, the Executive Homecoming Committee at Oklahoma Christian University decided club members will wear t-shirts instead of costumes during this year’s parade.

The homecoming committee announced the decision to each club’s homecoming director on Oct. 2 that all club members will wear t-shirts in the parade. They also invited international students to wear street clothes, a club t-shirt or the traditional clothing of their culture.

“Club members will not be imitating or representing the cultures of our international students, but instead encouraging a discussion about how diverse Oklahoma Christian’s community truly is,” Assistant Homecoming Director Meghan Rice said.

Some are still skeptical, however, of the choices behind this year’s homecoming theme, “Where the Heart is,” where each club will recognize a different country with which Oklahoma Christian is associated.

Members of Oklahoma Christian’s Department of English shared their concerns about the theme on a door in the English department which read, “What is cultural appropriation? Let’s see shall we…is it: absorbing one culture into another culture, a violation of the rights of stereotypes? Hint: All of these. Double hint: This is not an okay thing.”

According to junior English student Alexus Vanlandingham, her concern with this year’s homecoming is the focus of the theme.

“White Americans dressing up as another culture does not equate unity,” Vanlandingham said.  “The focus is still on the white Americans who are playing pretend with the costume, not on the actual international students.”

Despite a number of safeguards in place by the homecoming committee to ensure each country is represented accurately, Vanlandingham said she wishes an entirely different approach would have been taken for this year’s festivities.

“The fact that the homecoming committee had to ban costumes because our students could not accurately portray a culture without the risk of stereotyping because they simply are not educated enough about that culture that is not mainstream, white America… these are the things I find problematic about this year’s homecoming theme,” Vanlandingham said. “With six levels of check-points and hoops that each club must pass through in order to have an acceptable theme, obviously the executive committee was aware that this overarching theme would generate a lot of issues and I feel this could have been avoided several weeks ago by choosing a different theme.”

Students took to Twitter to share their feelings about the theme. Junior Theta Theta Theta Homecoming Director Valerie Stanglin encouraged her peers to get on board and show support for Oklahoma Christian, the theme and Theta’s chosen country of India.

“We have had the international students in mind the entire time,” Stanglin said on Twitter. “We have been communicating with these students the whole time. We ask them for help in designs and ask if things are being represented well. We have taken every precaution from the very beginning. We are trying our best to represent them and celebrate all the many countries represented at this school. Nobody is being left out. Nobody is being made fun of. Nobody is being excluded. I have been in contact with three students from India from the beginning and they are just as excited as we are. Don’t ruin this for them.”

According to Jan Bian, chair of the SGA multicultural committee, her initial concerns about the theme have been disbanded after speaking with the homecoming executives, but said she understands some students still have doubts about the sensitivity of representing other cultures in a respectful way.

“I know where it is coming from,” Bian said. “I understand that, if you let your imagination run wild, that those are the kinds of questions and concerns that people have, but after talking to Coby (Poole) and Meghan, and seeing the safeguards that they have in place, as well as the number of people who are overseeing every step of the process as we move closer to homecoming, I am not concerned that cultural appropriation will be a problem.”

With less than a month until homecoming takes place on campus, Bian said she thinks this year’s theme comes from a place of inclusion, love and appreciating people who are different.

“It is really encouraging to see OC facilitate this type of environment, where we can take a moment and celebrate our international students and appreciate their cultures,” Bian said. “The homecoming directors and the executive directors are all very aware of what cultural appropriation is and that is not the purpose of this theme. I think there is a way to celebrate someone’s culture without appropriating it, and I think that we are going to do a good job of that.”

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