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2nd December 2015

Yoga and 1920s themes are the latest targets in ‘cultural appropriation’ disputes

This week both Oxford University and the University of Ottawa have been criticised in the latest examples of unacceptable “cultural appropriation”

After ‘culturally insensitive’ Native American attire was prohibited at this year’s Neverland Pangaea, and ‘racist’ Mexican sombrero hats were banned at a freshers’ event at the University of East Anglia, it seems that cultural appropriation is a recurring dispute at many universities across the globe.

Two colleges at the University of Oxford have sparked a race row over plans to hold New Orleans and 1920s-themed end-of-year balls. Students have claimed that the plans outlined by the two colleges may cause offence to female and ethnic minority students. The balls have been branded “problematic” for commemorating “an era of history steeped in racism.”

Law student Arushi Garg, originally from India, expressed her disappointment of the 1926 theme planned for the Magdalen ball, stating that “if we’re reliving the past, the corridors of institutional spaces like Magdalen/Oxford is definitely not where you would find people of my gender, race and nationality.”

Lincoln College has also faced criticism for the marketing of its New Orleans-themed ball, being accused of mimicking the Mexican holiday ‘Dia de los Muertos’ (‘Day of the Dead’). The Lincoln ball committee has denied using material based on the holiday, or any other aspect of the Mexican culture, insisting critics have “misinterpreted” the advertising.

Continuing the series of recent cultural appropriation allegations, the University of Ottawa in Canada have suspended free yoga classes after complaints that the lessons were unacceptable “cultural appropriation” of a non-Western practice.

Yoga practitioner, Jennifer Scharf, has held free weekly classes to students at the university since 2008. At the beginning of this semester she received an email from the Centre for Students with Disabilities informing her of issues surrounding a formal complaint.

Staff from the centre wrote in the email: “While yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students… there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice. Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced”, and which cultures those practices “are being taken from.”

The email continued to state that many of those cultures “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide, and Diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy… we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves whilst practicing yoga.”

The Ottawa Student Federation, the university’s independent student body, made the decision to cancel the classes, despite Ms Scharf’s suggestion to change the name of the classes to “mindful stretching.”

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