Yes/No: Should ‘Bollywood D’ have taken place?

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Read the original story here: UDDERLY DISGRACEFUL – Insensitive fancy dress event sparks outrage

Yes – Alex Urquhart, Derwent JCRC Chair

Bollywood D was a new approach to engage home and international students. We wanted to narrow the divide between these groups within the college, and did this by hosting Derwent’s first Internationally themed Club D.

In the past there have been “International” events, put on by our International Reps. Rather than separating events aimed towards nationals and internationals, we want to bridge that gap and encourage a more multicultural attitude that further celebrates our diversity. Bollywood D was the finale of Derwent’s first International Fair, which was brilliant day, bringing together a mix of cultural societies throughout the university in Dbar. Bollywood D aimed to encourage students to think, research and learn through the process of sourcing appropriate attire and becoming more aware of Bollywood and Indian popular culture in general. It was an attempt to make a common Derwent event an opportunity for learning and a step towards a more united college community.

One of our main concerns is always, but especially for Bollywood D, the comfort and wellbeing of our international community here in Derwent. Our priority was to avoid any situation where an international student feels their own college is appropriating, misusing and disrespecting their culture. Our duty as a college is to ensure we do not facilitate or tolerate such behaviour if it were to take place. In order to aid this, for Bollywood D, the President of the British-Asian Society, Shailen Mistry, was on the door for the night, acting as the night’s mediator for any inappropriate costumes.

Shailen’s job was difficult – to be on the door, judging the intention of an outfit isn’t a simple task. The College thanks Shalien for his work and recognises that is difficult to predict how an outfit might be received by the wider community. It was a call made by just one person, which in hindsight shouldn’t have been the case. After discussions with the committee, ISA officers, BME officers, the British-Asian Society and various society committees we concluded that with planning, care and consideration, Bollywood D could be executed in such a manner that offensive situations are avoided. A costume party, of any theme, has the potential for offensive/insensitive outfits. I was not, however, going to let the fear of insensitive individuals dictate whether the event should or should not go ahead. That said, I do appreciate that certain costumes were not acceptable and should not have been allowed into the event. I take full responsibility for this taking place, and would like to apologise to anyone that felt isolated or upset by costumes – the photos have been removed from the album.

Derwent has always been proud of the quality and achievements of its events. Getting a consistently large turnout to events can have benefits beyond the obvious fun of the night itself – it has a deep-rooted influence on college spirit and outlook. Bollywood D did, with the vast majority, encourage a positive engagement with a culture we aren’t all immediately familiar. The college will always try to better the community in ways that are engaging, unique and fun; and Bollywood D firmly stood with this approach.

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No – Tamaki Laycock, YUSU BME Officer

To those attending BollywoodD, I would like to ask a few questions. What clothes will you wear?

I’m guessing the average York university student won’t have their own Indian traditional clothing or would know where to go to get the clothing. So what will students wear instead? Something colorful and patterned doesn’t automatically make it Bollywood, and “exotic” prints are mostly imitations with no cultural significance. The imitation that students will have to do will be crude and unrepresentative of the culture within Bollywood, further showing the misconceptions that students have about other cultures.


What counts as appropriation to you?

Cultural appropriation has been a hot and contested topic for a while. The problem is where to draw the line. The basic definition of cultural appropriation is the adoption of cultural elements such as dress, language, and heritage by another cultural group without a full understanding/respect of the intricacies of these cultural practices or the discrimination that may come with their practice for the original culture. Cultural appropriation usually comes without the consent of the cultural group that aspects are being adopted from. So when you go to this event, where will you draw the line?


How do we distinguish between appropriation and appreciation?

The Bollywood D event is a claim at appreciation of South Asian culture. However, claims of appreciation are stretched by the “themed drinks” being served, and the probable heavy drinking that will occur. Appreciation should be in the context of a respectful learning environment wherein genuine cultural exchange occurs between groups. This should have the purpose of creating a new and deeper understanding of these cultural practices as opposed to simply removing them from their original context with an interest in aesthetics. This is why I agree with Derwent’s International Fair happening earlier in the day, where different cultural societies are presenting a learning opportunity to students through “different regional food, music, travel, language, culture and film.” However, one day of learning doesn’t equate to gaining a full understanding of a culture. It’s a little more complicated than a little bit of effort being traded in for permission to do more.

I’m not saying that attendees can’t appreciate Bollywood or any other cultural experience, but I do think there is a time and a place. Being invited into someone’s culture, whether through an international fair, a wedding, or any event run by people from that experience is a great way to learn more and become a more open person. But using someone’s heritage as a way to capitalize and get pissed on a night out isn’t.

1 Comment

  1. Villainous cultural appropriator
    12 January 2016 - 12:50 GMT

    kill me

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