Northwestern University continued to stumble over diversity issues this week as Mexican students voiced disagreement with a campuswide letter that advised students not to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by engaging in racially-offensive activities, such as eating tacos and drinking tequila.
The letter was sent to students via e-mail, and published in The Daily Northwestern last week. Leaders of Alianza, a Latino student group, and the Associated Student Government called on students to remember that Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla. It is not a day to throw a sombrero-themed party, they said.
“Some of our peers choose to throw ‘Mexican-themed’ parties that are culturally insensitive, offensive, and detrimental to the Northwestern community,” said the letter, which noted that this was a problem year after year. “Drinking tequila shots, eating tacos, and wearing sombreros do not commemorate Mexican culture; on the contrary, that offends, marginalizes, and isolates many of our friends, classmates, and community members, and casts our entire community in poor light.”
The two Alianza presidents who signed the letter are not Mexican, according to The Daily Northwestern.
Their recommendations were quite a shock to Northwestern students who actually came from Mexico. Several of them fired back recently.
“I’d like to say that I proudly embrace my tacos, tequila and sombreros,” wrote Ruben Antonio Marcos Bours, a Northwestern student, in a statement. “To me, they are a key part of my childhood, growing up in Monterrey, Mexico.”
Another student who grew up in Mexico called the letter “over the top.”
“The people who wrote it had a good intention, but their perspective is different,” said Pablo Garcia Romero, a Northwestern student, in a statement.
Alianza’s letter was no more popular among non-Latino students.
“I’ll probably still go to Chipotle and drink Corona tomorrow, but I do that like everyday is it still offensive?” asked one online commenter.
Realizing that the letter was poorly received, representatives for Alianza and ASG confirmed that they are drafting a new letter that will better explain their position on Cinco de Mayo sensitivity.
“We’re not trying to pass judgement on the role tequila or tacos have in the Mexican culture,” said ASG president Ani Ajith. “It comes down to context and intent.
The controversy is just the latest example of Northwestern’s clumsy approach to diversity causing a stir. In response to two racial incidents over the last year, the university recently hired three new diversity administrators and revised the curriculum to include a cultural sensitivity requirement.
But some students have labelled these developments an overreaction.
“I don’t see much need for a lot of what has been put in place,” wrote Alex Entz, a Northwestern student, in an e-mail to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s not indicative of some type of endemic racism, in my opinion–especially at an overwhelmingly politically-correct university that struggles to discuss race honestly.”
Though the university should make campus a safe and welcoming place for all students, its current approach is heavy handed, he said.
“Northwestern has been put in a position where they have only a binary response pattern available: 0, no action, where they are perceived of as being tolerant of racism… or 1, where they are lauded for their actions,” he wrote. “This type of a tradeoff makes NU more prone to overreacting than under-reacting.”
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