Know where to draw the line

Frosh Week at Queen’s expends a lot of resources to discuss important topics like mental health and sexuality, but race is conspicuously absent. 

Cultural appropriation is everywhere, especially during Frosh Week, but despite the open opportunity to talk about it, we’re unwilling to confront our microaggressive habits.

This year, Western University’s O-Week frosh leaders aren’t allowed to wear fake dreadlocks, native headdresses, Mohawks, bandannas over the face, turbans or hijabs, unless these items are a part of their cultural or religious identity. 

Western’s Orientation Planning Committee set the ban after receiving several complaints from students. 

The tradition of culturally-inspired attire, such as Mohawks, has been shared by frosh leaders at Queen’s for many years.  

The Mohawk is a hairstyle originating with Native American tribes such as the Iroquois and Mohawks, or Mohicans. 

Being ignorant of the cultural connotations of your apparel doesn’t make the appropriation of it excusable. 

Even if you don’t know the historical and cultural value of a Mohawk hairstyle, it still doesn’t make it just hair. 

However innocent the intent, disrespect for traditional customs can be a serious offense to an increasingly international student body.  

But by simply banning specific items of dress or hairstyles, Western is missing out on a valuable teaching moment.

Instead of simply creating a ban list, it would be more effective if students received guidance, so that they could independently gauge what is and isn’t appropriate.  

Moreover, only banning the wear of specific items because of their connotative link to a specific cultural or ethnic group risks negatively colouring items that should be proudly worn. 

There are many healthy ways to share in traditional customs at Queen’s, as shown by groups such as the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre and the African & Caribbean Students’ Association, who both hold regular open events.

Platforms like Frosh Week exists for conversations about appropriate behaviour to happen. It shouldn’t be this hard for us to figure out when it’s not okay to wear a headdress. 

— Journal Editorial Board


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