Educating on cultural appropriation

Following Halloween festivities, the Winthrop Spirit Squad posted a photo deemed culturally insensitive and many used this photograph as an opportunity to educate Winthrop’s community

Winthrop University’s spirit squad posted a photo on their Instagram account last week that was deemed culturally insensitive by some viewers.

The picture was a part of a photo set taken on Halloween of the team in the costumes they wore to practice that night. The photo that rose concerns was a photo of two of the team members dressed as Native Americans.

On Wednesday morning after the photo was posted, comments condemning the girls attire began coming in.

“Good display of culturally inappropriate and racist costumes. Thanks Winthrop!!,” commented Lindsey Bargar, a former Winthrop student.

Comments came from former students, current Winthrop students and even a student from College of Charleston, where there was also a halloween costume issue provoked by a student who dressed as Freddie Gray, a man who was killed by police.

Some Winthrop students, such as Kelsey Lee in the history MAT5 program said they feel the situation is being magnified.

“Personally, I feel as if the entire situation has been blown out of proportion. For all of the people crying cultural appropriation of Native Americans, I expect to see them arguing and protesting against Thanksgiving, after all the celebration of conquering and killing thousands is a lot more harmful than a couple of cheerleaders wearing feathers,” Lee said.

Parker Quinlan, a graduate student in the Master of Liberal Arts program said he feels that this is an issue because it is using someone’s personal identity as a costume.

“It’s about understanding the fundamental concepts of an individual’s identity and how these are deeply personal to them. Using an individual’s identity in part or in whole to create a costume or to create a situation in which you can briefly resemble that person is troubling to many people,” Quinlan said.

Ali Womack, a sophomore English secondary education major said she thinks what the girls did was wrong, but it should be used as a chance to educate students on this topic.

“I think it was insensitive and ignorant, but the outcome of this situation should be educating people as to why that is offensive instead of lashing out angrily like I’ve seen a lot of people do. I am glad that this situation hadn’t been ignored, but we should use it as an educational opportunity,” Womack said.

Ken Halpin, the Director of Athletics at Winthrop said he took the issue seriously and as soon as he became aware of the photo, he made sure it was removed. He then continued to have a discussion with the spirit squad about the situation.

“As an athletic department, we then took the opportunity to meet with our Spirit Squad students and discuss how a seemingly innocent decision can cause pain for others. Our students were very thoughtful in responding that they didn’t realize this situation would offend others and if they had realized this they would have never worn the costumes,” Halpin said.

Halpin also said that the athletic department takes some of the blame for the incident.

“Our athletic department shares responsibility for the situation for not having a mechanism in place to prevent the post from being published on a departmental social media account in the first place,” Halpin said.

Halpin also noted that while the situation was not pleasant, it provided a learning opportunity for students.

“Although the incident began with a less than ideal decision, our students have left the situation with a greater awareness and appreciation for the background of others,” Halpin said. “In this situation we chose not to chastise our students, but instead engaged in healthy and respectful dialogue. I hope that in the future everyone in our university community will also chose to engage in respectful  discourse when difficult situations arise, as they inevitably will on a university campus.”

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