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Round table tolerance

Committee hosts first discussion in a series on hot-topic issues

By Hee Ju Kang
On October 21, 2013

Miley Cyrus and her Video Music Award performance with Robin Thicke has garnered quite a bit of attention. Last month, she paraded on stage in clothes that left little to the imagination, and her highly sexual "twerk" aroused a great deal of controversy after the performance, causing the public to react in general disgust.
On Friday, Oct. 18, the Community Prejudice Response Committee members, Dean of Students Jamele Adams, Prof. Jen Cleary (THA), the Rev. Walter Cuenin, Intercultural Center Director Monique Gnanaratnam and Director of Community Living Erika Lamarre hosted the first event in a series of discussions on diversity titled "Miley, Molly, and those Blurred Lines," which dealt with issues of gender, sex, drugs and double standards in pop culture today.
The event, held in the Swig Lounge of the Intercultural Center, was attended by about 25 students. The group sat in an intimate ring facing each other.
The discussion opened with the topic of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's VMA performance. One student shared her belief that Cyrus's actions, although positive in the sense that Cyrus feels empowered enough to act in defiance to societal expectations, are unacceptable due to cultural appropriation-the act of taking a cultural element of a group without proper consent and understanding. She claimed that "twerking," a dance in which one shakes his or her hips to jiggle the buttocks, originates from traditional African dances. She also stated that Cyrus recently shed fame on "twerking" without a proper understanding of the cultural origins and significance of the dance.
The discussion then shifted to the topic of Robin Thicke and his song "Blurred Lines." Although initially quiet, the students slowly began to speak up.
Several students indignantly said Thicke and the lyrics of the song endorsed rape culture and that the music video was simply vulgar, featuring young female models in only bottom underwear.
"This video didn't even make sense to me," one student said, "Why were they doing weird things? Why was the model holding a lamb? And how is it okay to say Robin Thicke has a big 'd' in the middle of a music video?" The student went on to comment on the accessibility of these controversial videos on the Internet, sharing her worries about what impressionable young people could learn from the contents of the video.
The students then returned to the first student's comment about cultural appropriation and addressed the gaps between each ethnic and racial group. One of the event attendees shared her past experiences with people outside of her cultural sphere. "People often say that the tango is too sexual, but to me, it's just beautiful," she said. She shared that when she had attended a friend's "Mexican-themed" party, two attendees wore offensive costumes alluding to Mexican immigrants in America. "They were my friend's friends, and I was very uncomfortable," she said.
There was also a great deal of discussion regarding widely-used controversial words. Students discussed with the CPR members the usage of the N-word among others. "[The N-word] should never be used, under any circumstances," a student said. "The historical background of the word makes it intolerable. Not even black people should be using it," she said.
To end the discussion, Adams suggested that everyone try their best to converse with those who may hold different opinions and alternate views.
He gave an example from his experience years ago. He said he encountered a white man who called him the N-word, meaning offense. The man had not expected a black man to be educated, and Adams said that he surprised the man by inviting him to an intellectual conversation about race and stereotypes.
"We even exchanged phone numbers," Adams said, commenting on how the experience turned positive after he made an effort to communicate.
The discussion extended well over the hour of its allotted time. As people bid one another goodbye and parted, murmurs of excitement and delight over the discussion pervaded the lounge.
Maya Cooper '16 said that although the event was a positive experience, she felt some aspects left room for improvement. "I thought the event today was a great beginning to a discussion that really needs to continue more on this campus about ... race and gender and ... how those things come together and how those things need to be broken down," she said. "I think it really would have been nice to see some representation from other groups across the campus."
Michael Wang '17 said that he would like to attend more of the CPR discussions to follow. "A class recommended that I come ... I wasn't really sure about how it was going on at first because it was about [the "Blurred Lines" music video] I'd never actually seen."
Wang also commented on the somewhat unfocused nature of the event. "I actually felt a bit flustered because it dealt with so many different things that I never really thought about because they never really pertained to me," he said.
The committee hopes to host more discussions based on current events in the future, and the next topic will revolve around the theme of privilege.
Adams was pleased with the event. "To have a mix of students, administrators and professors and folks of an entire spectrum of different cultures, races and nationalities ... and ethnicities present for a conversation. Oh, it was great!" he said. "[There is] not just the need to talk about [these issues] but the desire to talk about it. This falls in direct line with social justice, falls in direct line with community." 


By Hee Ju

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