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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

OSA: Western Athletics’ culturally insensitive post part of larger problem

By Julia Furukawa and Western Front Staff

Western Athletics told students to wear their “best beach gear” to “Hawaiian Night,” a themed men’s basketball game, in an Instagram post on Wednesday, Jan. 24, resulting in criticism from students for cultural insensitivity.

The Athletics Department cancelled the theme hours after the post appeared, and Director of Athletics Steve Card issued an apology.

The Oceanic Student Association released a statement in response Friday, Jan. 26. The full statement can be read here. The group is asking Western to be more inclusive, and for Western administration (including the director of athletics) to have better training and increased awareness.

Within three hours of the post on Wednesday, Card issued an apology over email to Mele Mataese, president of Western’s OSA, and the Oceanic Students Association.

“We apologize for this lack of understanding on the matter and realize the serious nature,” Card said. “We will learn from this mistake moving forward.”

However, in its statement, OSA said this is part of a larger problem at Western.

To see indigenous culture reduced to clip-art, and to see cultural and religious productions flaunted as some kind of beachwear, is an insult to all indigenous people and any and every ethnic group,” the statement said. “The post and theme night were tone deaf and insulting, obviously, but they also underline a larger problem on Western’s campus.”

In its statement, the OSA said Western lacks courses geared toward Pacific Islander students in comparison to other schools in the state.

It is because of this fact that the issue of representation and education falls on the shoulders of students in the Oceanic Student Association as well as other individual Pacific Island students,” the statement said. “Theirs is unpaid educational, emotional, and structural labor, as the OSA and their allies work to bring speakers and events to campus to help PI students feel at home here.”

The statement also said this instance is not isolated.

Time and again, Western Washington University preaches diversity and even puts brown and black students within their pamphlets to attract diversity but when these students come to campus, this institution fails to support and represent them,” the statement said. “The post from the Athletics Department is yet another example of a continued campus culture propagated by those at the top of the institution that fails ethnic students.”

Western’s director of communications and marketing, Paul Cocke, responded for the administration on Monday, Jan. 29.

“We thank the OSA for bringing this cultural misappropriation to the attention of the Athletics Department and to the university as a whole. We take our commitment to diversity, authentic inclusion and social justice seriously, yet we acknowledge that we still have much to learn and improve upon as we strive to bring multiple cultures together in a respectful and harmonious campus climate,” he said. “This is important work that requires the involvement of all members of the Western community, including our students, who often lead us to our best outcomes.”

The Western Athletics Department has received other complaints about insensitivity in the past, including when students and a professor said the mascot doesn’t reflect a commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

Western men’s basketball still played against Saint Martin’s University on Thursday, Jan. 26 in Sam Carver Gymnasium, but without the theme.

Western Athletics posted a photo on Instagram of a basketball player with a lei to promote "Hawaiian Night." Tiki torches frame the photo.
Western Athletics took this down hours later, after students criticized it for being culturally appropriative. // Screenshot by The Western Front.

Updates on the Oceanic Students Association can be found on their Facebook account.

Updated at 3:50 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26 with more from the OSA statement.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29 with a response from Western’s administration to OSA’s statement.

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