Derwent students have sparked fury after wearing costumes branded “culturally insensitive” at a college event.
The fancy dress disco took place on Saturday January 10 and hoped to celebrate the “cultural diversity within the college and university.”
However, the event has been accused of mocking religious symbols after one student came dressed as a cow, a sacred Hindu animal highly revered in India, and was pictured with two other students bowing towards him.
The student who wore the cow ‘onesie’, defended the outfit saying: “Before going to the event I asked several people if they thought the outfit was offensive and nobody told me it was, I also asked people at the event and they also told me the outfit wasn’t offensive, I’m not a racist person, I have Indian friends who would tell anyone that asked I’m not a racist person.”
The student, who hails from Manchester, also apologised for any offence it may have caused and said: “In no way did I mean to cause any offence to anyone of any faith or race and had anyone told me the outfit was offensive I would have not worn the outfit.”
Organisers originally warned people planning on donning outfits “considered inappropriate or of bad taste” to stay away. It is not known if anyone was turned away from the event because of their costume.
The JCRC originally promised “the most vibrant, colourful and unique Club D yet.” But students were left disappointed after the event was called off over an hour early after a speaker broke.
Photographs of the event are publicly available on the ‘Derwent Col’ Facebook page, which, in addition to student with drawn-on bindis and in traditional Hindu dress, features two students wearing makeshift purple students simulating a sex act on each other.
YUSU BME (Black, Minority Ethnic) Officer Tamaki Laycock slammed the party-goers’ attire, saying: “The appropriation photographed is unacceptable, and highlights an ignorance and disrespect towards other cultures. The open use of costumes that aren’t connected to Bollywood in any shape or form, including a dashiki, kimono, and belly dance costumes, is further proof of that.
“Furthermore, the insults towards religious aspects of South Asian cultures were appalling. Dressing as a cow, a known religious symbol, is a fundamental mockery and disregard towards important parts of peoples lives.
“We hope Derwent College can use this experience and move forwards in their understandings and compassion towards others.”
However, in a shock twist of events, the President of the BritAsian Society admitted in a statement to letting the student in the cow costume into the event, despite admitting the cow was “a sacred animal”.
Shailen Mistry defended the student’s garb: “Had this person demonstrated racism and deliberate offense wearing this costume I would have had him removed”.
He said: “He wasn’t causing deliberate damage and outrage by posing in a provocative manner, yet accepted the culture.”
Mistry also defended the Derwent Chair, Alex Urquhart, claiming he demonstrated “extreme caution” when allowing people to enter and was determined for no one to be insulted.
The Derwent International Representatives, Julia Rosell Jackson and Jessica Jackson, originally raised issues with the event, and worked with organisers in a hope to avoid offense.
They said: “We are sorry that offense was caused and hope that in the future, events focusing on cultural diversity will be more respectful.”
Derwent events are no stranger to controversy. Last year the chair of the Student Socialist Society angrily demanded YUSU “shut down” Chav D. Another Derwent fresher described the event as “the epitome of middle class ignorance.”
In October the college was again forced on the defensive after student complaints over Cabaret D, at which freshers were encouraged to cross-dress. The party was formerly known as ‘Slag and Drag’.
We have attempted to contact all the people pictured to get their side of the story. If you are in one of these photos, email firstname.lastname@example.org, to share your side of the story.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE COW COSTUME – Roberto Avelar, International Students Association Co-President
The University of York is a world-renowned university with over 4000 international students.
With this in mind it is important to be able to share, respect, and learn from each other’s cultures. This is what the Derwent JCRC aimed to do with the Bollywood D event on Saturday, with members of the JCRC contacting both myself and the BME officers regarding the event.
I personally gave them the go ahead as the event was portrayed to be about appreciation and celebration of Indian culture, with the reassurance on the event page that there would be a zero tolerance policy towards racism.
I was saddened to hear that this was not the case, with reports of both cultural appropriation and racism, with a student even allegedly dressing up as a cow. The cow is an important religious symbol in the Hindu faith, likely stemming from when the Indus Valley Civilization used cattle for dairy products and field tilling.
It is a shame to see such a rich culture being turned into cheap costumes, and this is not the kind of behaviour one would expect from some of the – allegedly – brightest minds in the country.
I have no doubt that the Derwent JCRC had the best intentions for an exciting and educational event, and I hope this does not act as a disincentive for other students wanting to do cultural events, but there clearly needs to be more stringent regulations and consequences regarding racism in the University.
I hope that the offending students are penalized accordingly, and that the relevant parties issue a public apology.