Last night, I was made aware that an event called “Beerfest” is being planned. This is an attempt to repeat the event that occurred in November 2016 in which students wore costumes that mocked and degraded cultures. I am extremely disappointed that the organizers—my peers—have not learned that it is hurtful to host an event that trivializes the cultures and traditions of others.
The event encouraged teams of students to represent different countries by dressing in costumes that resulted in caricatures and hurtful tropes of other cultures. I am brought back to a specific picture from last year’s event: the group of students wearing “monk” costumes with pantyhose stretched over their hair to replicate shaved heads. It was this picture that stuck in my mind because it represented a clear lack of respect and understanding for East Asian cultures. This particular group of students chose to represent monks. When I saw these pictures, I felt like my Chinese heritage and culture was reduced to a piece of pantyhose on their heads.
With an increased focus on addressing issues of systemic racism at Queen’s, I was hopeful that the Queen’s community could confront the culture of racism that enables events like this and make our campus more inclusive. However, the recurrence of this event and the language used by this year’s organizers is extremely disappointing to me, not only as President of the AMS, but as a racialized student of colour at Queen’s. While strides have been made since last year’s incidents, the resurfacing of this event undermines the significance of that ongoing work and the many people, particularly racialized students, who have placed themselves at the forefront of this movement.
They claim that labelling this event as a “racist party” is a “major distortion” of its purpose, which demonstrates that some students have failed to acknowledge the hurt that was experienced by racialized students, including me. They also define the students who have expressed their feelings of anger and unsafety following last year’s event as “self-righteous keyboard warriors” in an active attempt to undermine their experiences, the harm caused, and the normalizing effects that these events had on racism at Queen’s.
I recognize that I am speaking from a position of power and privilege as President of the Alma Mater Society. However, I also recognize that I cannot separate my role as President from my experience as a racialized woman on this campus.
I ask that we all challenge our own behaviour and the actions of each other and question the impact and legacy we will leave on this campus and the people in it. I ask that you think about what it means when we allow acts that foster unsafe and inaccessible spaces for our peers, and what that says about who we are. I hope that we can continue a thoughtful and constructive conversation about cultural appropriation and the systemic racism that makes Queen’s inaccessible to too many racialized students.
I, for one, am not okay with what this event says about our values as a community and I hope that you aren’t okay with it either.
Jennifer Li is President of the AMS