Western University has a new plan for their incoming freshman class, and it involves their sophomore peers leaving their fake dreadlocks, face bandanas, mohawk hairstyles, and native headdresses at home.
The university is implementing a series of style bans to broaden its inclusivity, and prevent potential accusations of cultural insensitivity or negative appropriation. With its new orientation week dress code, Western is also restricting its "soph" student leaders from wearing a hijab or turban for non-religious reasons.
This decision is also in line with the Osheaga Music Festival, ÎleSoniq Festival and Bass Coast Festival's respective calls to prohibit attendees from wearing headdresses as a fashion accessory.
It's a topic that struck a chord with JUNO Hall of Fame musician Buffy Sainte-Marie, too. Earlier this month, Sainte-Marie told the Canadian Press that "when it comes to things like headdresses, there are some things that are actually, factually, personally, deeply cultural to our heritage."
"It's inappropriate. It's not funny. It doesn't help.''
The university previously experienced "blatantly offensive" cultural appropriation with student Halloween costumes in 2013, according to a Western Gazette editorial. Speaking to these pending restrictions, Western University's orientation week co-chair Taryn Scripnick says her school is taking a step in the right direction.
“I know a number of festivals throughout the world have been banning some of these cultural items, so I am hoping that Western can kind of be an example,” said Scripnick, to CP24.
“Orientation week is supposed to be about helping students transition and feel welcome and if there is a first-year who is not comfortable with some of these items we need to make sure we are addressing that,” said Scripnick, in an interview with CTV News.
However, these new policies have not necessarily been popular among Western's students or alumni. One anonymous "Old Frosh" expressed their frustration with a comment on a Western Gazette article, writing "It's a shame that future students will probably have to chant, 'No Sex, No Fun, Just Political Correctness.'"
“We have had a bit of a pushback from some individuals who believe we are taking away a tradition but when you are taking an item with such cultural significance to it and using it as a costume I think it’s a problem,” said Scripnick, to CTV News.
But another Canadian university is following suit by introducing a similar culturally-sensitive fashion policy for its students. Brock University has dubbed its upcoming orientation week "Brockchella" in an homage to the star-studded music festival Coachella, but according to the National Post, its students have been warned not to "appropriate other cultures to make a fashion statement."
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