Sumo suits end in apology

National media report on incident

Students dressed in Athletics and Recreation’s sumo suits compete at a Gaels football game earlier this year.
Students dressed in Athletics and Recreation’s sumo suits compete at a Gaels football game earlier this year.

The AMS’s decision to cancel a “Sumo Showdown” fundraiser last Thursday has garnered Queen’s national media attention.

The National Post ran a front-page story on Tuesday about the event cancellation and the apology the AMS issued on their website.

AMS Communications Officer Brandon Sloan said the event was meant to raise money for the AMS Food Centre. Students would have dressed in padded suits and wigs, designed to resemble Japanese sumo wrestlers.

The AMS created a Facebook event page featuring a photo of two Japanese wrestlers.

Sloan said AMS Intern Council, which is made up of first-year interns, planned the event.

After receiving complaints from students about the proposed event, Sloan said the AMS cancelled the event on March 25.

“It was brought to our attention by students that there were some concerns about this, so we felt it appropriate that the event be cancelled and that we find other ways to raise funds,” he said, adding that the AMS will either plan a replacement event or ask students to simply donate money to the Food Centre.

“Once we learned about it, the event was cancelled within 12 hours,” he said. “We learned about it at night and were unable to get a hold of the administrators of the [Facebook] event until morning.”

Sloan said the AMS issued an apology shortly thereafter.

The apology, which was posted on the AMS website, said asking students to participate in this activity would be inappropriate because it turns a racial identity into a costume.

“The process of putting-on and taking-off a racial identity is problematic because it dehumanizes those who share that identity and fails to capture the deeply imbedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced,” the apology said.

The AMS apologized for offending people and said it will ensure this is prevented in future event planning.

“We recognize racism as systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities,” the apology said.

Andrea Chan, ArtSci ’10, said she thinks it’s understandable that students want to participate in fun events, but that shouldn’t occur at the expense of exploiting other people’s cultures.

“These sumo suits are everywhere, they can be found everywhere. After a while, it becomes normal to see it … because of this, many become desensitized to it,” Chan said, adding that she thinks desensitization creates problems. “You’re taking someone’s culture and basically making fun of them.”

Chan said she thinks the National Post article misrepresented students’ experiences on campus.

“It mentioned a lot about Queen’s and how they have been good with inclusivity in the past and currently,” she said. “I feel that those comments can be made if you aren’t from Queen’s and don’t face daily experiences of oppression.” Chan said she thinks the AMS sent a positive message by cancelling the event.

“It’s needed for the AMS to receive all different perspectives because these are student voices and this is what the AMS should be—representative of student voices.”

Daniel Salvatore, ArtSci ’10, said he thinks the AMS had good intentions but took the cancellation too far.

“The apology took the field about free speech too far towards political correctness,” he said. “This resulted in a little bit of overreaction by the AMS.” Salvatore said he thinks the media attention puts Queen’s reputation in a negative light.

“The University’s already gotten bad enough coverage of Homecoming,” he said.

Salvatore said he thinks the AMS should consider the repercussions of its actions before taking similar ones in the future.

“This was supposed to be a fundraiser and raise money for a good cause,” he said. “Due to this, there’s now no money being raised.”

Ken Wang, ArtSci ’09 and AMS vice-president (operations) 2008-09, said he thinks there’s no place within student government to host an event where racialized costumes are used.

“It’s up to the student government to ensure that this doesn’t occur and to recognize that this is an extreme problem,” he said.

Wang said he’s seen similar incidents occur every Halloween on campus, when people dress up in racialized costumes.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we can’t control whether or not a national press happens to cover the incident,” he said. “However, we can control whether the incident occurs.”

—With files from Gloria Er-Chua

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