The Black Student Union hosted a Students Speak event exploring the topics of cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation Oct. 25. Students gathered in Stover 300 as members of the BSU presented research and information regarding cultural appropriation from a variety of perspectives.
The presenters, Cece Fitts, sophomore marine biology major and president of BSU, and Q Kelley, junior psychology major and vice president of BSU, asked open-ended questions and encouraged healthy discussion amongst students.
“We wanted them to be curious and ask questions based out of love,” Kelley said.
Members of the BSU had a difficult time selecting a topic for the presentation, but both Kelley and Fitts agreed they wanted to push students outside of their comfort zone.
“[Cultural appropriation] is not about blacks and whites, but the opposing cultures,” Fitts said.
Fitts and Kelley believe it is incredibly important to have difficult discussions about sensitive issues such as race.
“People need to be aware of the hard stuff,” Kelley said. “That is the first step for change.”
To assist in fostering a feeling of connection between participants, Fitts began the presentation by leading the group in a prayer. Fitts wanted to establish a back-and-forth among students so they felt both challenged but safe by the presentation and had a discussion rooted in facts.
“Growth comes from being educationally uncomfortable,” Kelley said.
The goal of the presentation was to enlighten students of the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation, as well as cast light on the topic of race within an overwhelmingly white university.
“The whole idea is self-awareness,” Fitts said. “It is OK to know ‘I’ve been living in darkness my whole life’ about a topic. The goal is to bring awareness to that.”
In the presentation, Fitts and Kelley presented primary research compiled via questionnaire to 67 students across campus. Questions spanned from opinions of race to defining cultural appropriation versus appreciation.
“A lot of white people said that they didn’t know what cultural appropriation is,” Fitts said.
Fitts read questionnaire responses and had participants guess what race they believe gave the answers. Fitts and Kelley also explored examples of cultural appropriation in popular culture and led a discussion featuring open-ended questions to foster debate among those in attendance.
Jesse Hazlett, freshman environmental science major, attended the presentation and participated in the discussion.
Hazlett was impressed by the passion of his fellow students as they discussed the issue of cultural appropriation.
“I think it’s inspiring to see that students care so deeply about the topic,” he said.
Discussion included varying opinions on cultural appropriation. Within the presentation, to keep the views expressed balanced, Kelley and Fitz played a video that denounced the entire idea of cultural appropriation.
Hazlett admittedly felt challenged by discussing cultural appropriation.
“This was a different topic for me,” he said.
The presenters encouraged students to be open-minded and learn about the subject, particularly because so many people find it difficult to talk about racial issues publicly.
Though the topic was sensitive, the true intention of the event for the BSU went beyond informing students on the differences between cultural appropriation and appreciation.
“The purpose of the Students Speak is to give students an opportunity to talk to us and realize we come from a place of love,” Fitts said.