Last Friday, during the HOLI festival on Foss Hill, several members of Shakti, one of the groups that organized the event, put up signs on the doors of Usdan University Center (Usdan) that prompted broad student criticism and discussion. The posters were intended to prevent festival attendees from entering Usdan while coated in the colored powder that is flung during the event.
The signs, which read, “NO COLORED PEOPLE ALLOWED IN USDAN,” followed by the text, “(but seriously, if you’re covered in colored powder, you can’t come in),” were considered offensive by many students, and prompted one student to write, “Stop making jokes at the expense of students of color” on one of the signs.
An image of the annotated sign was quickly posted on Facebook and subsequently picked up by Wesleying.
The Wesleying post, which received over 2000 views within 24 hours, sparked a debate within the comments section. As of the publication of this article, the post has incited over 80 comments.
Katherine Y. ’12, a member of Shakti and one of the senior organizers of HOLI, promptly posted an apology on Wesleying, accepting full responsibility for the objectionable content of the signs.
“I’m not sure why the obvious offensiveness of it didn’t hit me in the face immediately and I am deeply, deeply regretful that I ever printed these,” wrote Y. “I am very sorry to anyone I have offended and welcome anyone who wants to talk to me about [this] in person….”
Y. also included her cell phone number and email address in her apology, but this information was later removed by Wesleying administrators.
“Wesleying received reports that Katherine was receiving threatening phone calls, so we decided to remove her full name and contact information for her own protection,” said Wesleying Managing Editor Zach Schonfeld ’13.
President Michael Roth, in an all-campus email, commented on the objectionable content of the Shakti signs.
“Wesleyan’s campus is a place of great multi-cultural learning and festivity,” wrote Roth. “The Holi event is a wonderful example of this. The campus can also be a place of vulnerability and misperception, and the signs posted on Friday for many evoked patterns of injustice and violence that our society has not yet left behind.”
Roth wrote that the incident would be recorded in the Campus Climate Log, and that he had requested that the Student Affairs offices and the Office of Diversity and Institutional Partnerships help in the wake of the posting of the signs.
A student-led meeting, organized by a group of concerned students who say that they are not affiliated with any particular group, took place in Usdan at 9 p.m. last night.
In a Wesleying post advertising the event, the organizers wrote, “This meeting will not be a meeting about discussing the individual who posted the flyer. It is our hope that this meeting can be a constructive one about larger institutional racism on campus and how we can take action to educate the community about it (and work towards both understanding, acknowledging and working against it).”
Roth echoed this sentiment in his email, expressing his hope that the signs’ posting would lead to positive change and spark productive conversation on campus around racial issues.
“I am hopeful that this incident will remind us of the active legacies of oppression all around us, while it also helps us recall that people make mistakes even in communities most embracing of cultural differences,” wrote Roth. “Our campus is a work in progress. Let’s use this incident to learn from one another in a context of mutual acknowledgement and respect.”