Luau, the island-themed dance known to kick-off the college social calendar, was replaced by a Late at Bates event this past weekend.
Last year, the rescheduling of Luau made headlines in the September 10th, 2014 article “Luau leid to rest.” An event typically hosted by Chase Hall in conjunction with the Residence Life staff, two years ago the dance was taken over by the Orientation Week Leaders. As former Dean of Students Holly Gurney explained, the residence team passed off Luau to the OWLs, as it was not conducive to their other JA/RC responsibilities. In turn, adding another commitment to the OWL’s already jam-packed Orientation schedule was unreasonable.
Keith Tannenbaum, former Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities, then reached out to other clubs on campus to see if anyone was interested in co-sponsoring the dance at a later date. AASIA stepped up to the plate, and the crowd-favorite was held mid-September.
Leaders of AASIA wanted to co-host the event “both to publicize [our club] and because Luau and Pacific Islanders sort of both fell under the categories of AASIA,” co-president Hanna Chipman ’17 said.
Asian-American Students in Action, or AASIA is part of the Mosaic Student Council and strives to foster awareness on campus regarding Asian-American culture and history.
At the time, co-presidents Chipman and Matt Gee ‘16 did not realize some members of campus would find the theme offensive or inappropriate. The notion was first brought to Chipman’s attention in May during a discussion about cultural appropriation in reference to Cinco de Mayo celebrations. She learned that some students of Pacific Island backgrounds raised concerns over the theme of Luau.
The issue arose again when Gee reached out to the Campus Life office to ask if AASIA could co-sponsor Luau this year.
He was informed that Luau was going to be replaced by a Late at Bates activity, filled with glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, a photo-booth, and bubble tea. The Campus Life staff then offered AASIA the opportunity to co-sponsor this event.
The administration cites two main reasons for the replacement of the dance: cultural appropriation and a shift in campus life away from the typical dance module.
“Several Pacific Islander students let the administration know that they were uncomfortable with the cultural appropriation of a “luau,” so we felt a change in the format and name of the event was in order,” Director of Media Relations and Policy Advisor Kent Fischer said.
“This was a decision made by Campus Life in partnership with students,” Fischer said. “Mixer type of events can be intimidating for first-year students this early in the year, and Campus Life wanted to help support an event that felt less so.”
Gee was supportive of the decision.
“I can see how people could be offended,” Gee said. “It is an example of culture appropriation…and I can understand that they want to move away from the dance model because of this [push for] a change in culture coming from the Dean of Students office.”
Chipman had more concerns. She understands that the theme offended members of the community, but wishes they had come to speak to AASIA about the issue. Neither Gee nor Chipman were approached by a student about the cultural appropriation of the theme.
“I do understand why it was seen as cultural appropriation,” Chipman said. “I think my initial thought, as I said in “Luau: A missed opportunity for conversation,” was that I was frustrated and wondering why these people did not come to talk to us. We were wondering if the people who were offended would have been offended if we hadn’t hosted… if there was some correlation between AASIA sponsoring it.”
Chipman was still grateful for the opportunity to help out at Late at Bates.
“I don’t mean to say the administration failed in making conversation,” Chipman adds. “We didn’t do anything either… We definitely could’ve brought it up in AASIA—which we might [in the future].”