Ouch, the AMS hurt my feelings!

31Mar10

Is there a limit to how far is too far with being politically correct?

An incident that came to a head this week at Queen’s has made this a serious question.  Over the past few years, Queen’s has become known as a campus that, according to many, is chock full of Islamophobia, white privilege, racism, and bigotry.  I’m not going to deny that the campus is full of incidents that are largely questionable and oppressive, but I do think the way the AMS has been handling complaints leaves something to be desired.  In such a climate, both the University and the student government attempt to quell any potential incidents as soon as possible, often leaving their common sense behind.

At AMS Assembly last week, the executive announced that an event planned for Tuesday March 30, entitled the SUMO SHOWDOWN was to be cancelled due to complaints and an apology had been issued on the AMS website. (check it out here).  The apology rings true, although it is filled with a bunch of terminology that many students will scoff at and likely won’t understand.  However, I understand from a public relations perspective why the AMS had to issue such an apology and stop the event.  Even so, I think the AMS has started down a slippery slope.

(Sumo wrestling costumes, much like those the AMS planned to use.
Photo courtesy of Flickr)

The thing I find most worrisome is a quote from AMS Communications officer Brandon Sloan in the National Post coverage, where he states, “We would never want to host and event that would offend some members”.  Newsflash, AMS.  Every event, every action, every statement is going to offend SOMEONE.  The AMS is setting a dangerous precedent by essentially saying anything that offends is unwanted on campus.  How about exploring toleration?

In my second year philosophy class, we explored the issue of toleration.  The example that sticks out is one of pornography.  We were given a situation involving three individuals: A pornographer, a Muslim man, and an average person who runs a newsstand.  The pornographer relies on pornography for his livelihood.  The average person running the newsstand does not necessarily agree with pornography, but realizes that other people enjoy it, so he sells it anyways.  The Muslim man is deeply offended by the very existence of pornography and has stated that he cannot tolerate its existence.  In fact, he is offended by the very fact that there is a business in his neighborhood that sells pornographic materials, and wants it shut down.

Who must tolerate whom in this situation?  In the case of the AMS, the person who has decided they cannot be contented with merely tolerating a situation that is greatly beneficial to some and insignificant to others, is the winner.  Even if these people would be able to go on in their day-to-day lives knowing that, for example, on Queen’s campus and in many other parts of the world, Sumo costumes are used, their opinions and feelings must prevail.  With this in mind, how far will the AMS go to prevent offence and ignore the idea of toleration?

I wonder if they will prevent the QP from serving green beer on St. Patrick’s day, given that the holiday has been appropriated from the English and turned into a mockery of the struggles of the Irish people.

I wonder if they will have lists of banned words or phrases as an appendix to Bourinot’s Rules to ensure no one who attends Assembly is offended.

I wonder if they will change frosh week to prevent any and all pelvic thrusting, suggestive language, events that prevent those who are not able to participate.

I wonder if they will cut funds to the SHRC and prevent them from holding events because many on campus don’t believe in premarital sex or are offended by homosexuality.  Going even further, the SHRC gets AMS Student fees, some of which go towards their pro-choice abortion accompaniment program, where they send a volunteer to accompany a woman to her abortion.

I wonder if they will cancel Vogue and Rogue.  Just yesterday, the AMS Twitter account advertised that the Vogue Charity Fashion Show committee application deadline had been extended.  Given the backlash that both Vogue and Rogue, a show designed to showcase non-traditional beauty, received, should the AMS refuse to support fashion shows on campus?

Should our student government refuse to support any venture that might possibly prove controversial and, thus, offensive?

The answer is no.  Let the protests happen.  Let people engage in the discussion and debate many of these events are meant to provoke.  Realize that an incident such as the Sumo Showdown is not going to incite an uprising in the student body.  It’s easy to complain, but many are content to just do so and will not go any further.  With this in mind, by all means, try to remain as inclusive as possible.  Just don’t take every instance of ‘offence’ as a means to back down and apologize.

EDIT: If you haven’t read this piece by a former AMS president, then please do. It’s fantastic and says everything I wasn’t able to say.

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2 Responses to “Ouch, the AMS hurt my feelings!”

  1. 1 Cam

    I would agree with you that whatever an organization such as the AMS chooses to do, someone is going to be offended. However, I think your post ignores the important issues of *the reason* that person if offended, and what kind of *mandate* the organization uses. In regards to the former, the reason students are “offended” (arguably a euphemism, but I’ll go along with your terminology) is because they feel the costumes are racist, evoke racist images of Asians, and thus contribute to an unpleasant environment and campus for some Asians. In regards to the latter, the AMS is a student organization with a mandate which urges inclusivity and representation of students. In line with this goal of inclusivity, it is indeed relevant whether or not events marginalize or exclude other students, and saying that it is just a matter of “hurt feelings” minimizes both the exclusionary atmosphere the event contributes to, and the mandate of inclusivity and representation of the AMS. It’s not the AMS’ job to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt – but it is their job to do so when feelings are hurt because representations at AMS events are racist, and when feelings being hurt happens to coincide with their responsibility as an organization.

    In short, I don’t think all hurt feelings are the same. Being hurt because your friends didn’t invite you to a party is different from feeling hurt because the party uses costumes which are racial caricatures. Being hurt because someone doesn’t like you is different from feeling hurt because your student government, there to represent you, doesn’t take action when the campus is not inclusive. I think attempting to minimize the issue as ‘just’ involving feelings ignores the larger context. Yes, the issue involves hurt feelings, but it also involves so much more.

    On another note, not necessary to my point, I would argue that feelings are real and should matter. Is it “just” hurt feelings if your wheelchair can’t go in a student building? Is it “just” hurt feelings if a car passing by calls you ‘nigger,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘slut,’ or ‘chink’? These feelings are part of systemic problems and I do think they should be considered as much as possible when talking about issues like racism, sexism, homophobia and classism.

    • 2 Stephanie Fusco

      Hi Cam,
      Thanks for the thoughtful response. You make many great points, and I’d just like to clarify a few things (I think we are actually on the same page, for the most part). In writing this, I was more concerned with the actual quote from the AMS council member regarding cancelling events if even one person is offended, since I do believe it sets a dangerous precedent.

      I tried to shy away from actually discussing whether the incident was racist or not since I believe that my opinion on the matter would be clouded by my privilege. Instead, I tried to focus on how much farther people would be able to take this willingness on the part of the AMS to cancel any ‘offensive’ event. You might recall the protests that took place by a pro-life group on campus on the day of our most recent referendum regarding the SHRC fee.

      The issue of exclusivity is a very real one, as is the importance of feelings. I’m sorry if my title (which was simply meant to be snarky and different from the usual “sumo showdown opinion here” title) mislead you into thinking I disregarded that. The fact that students may have been offended by the use of the Sumo suits and that their feelings may have been hurt is a real concern. Another large concern, however, is that students will see this situation, look at the apology, and just disregard it completely.

      The AMS apology used terminology many students aren’t familiar with and did not actually talk about ways to foster dialogue in hopes of preventing this sort of situation in the future. I see this as a large problem – they tried to throw a bunch of words at us that so many did not understand in hopes of covering up the fact that they were not insightful enough to see that this might offend students on campus and cause problems that the school really does not need, publicity-wise.

      I hope this has helped you see that we do have some common ground, and that I’m more concerned with the effects this will have on AMS events in the future (including programs I feel very strongly about such as Positive Space).


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