At the Nov. 4 Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) Executive Board meeting, ASCMC President Ben Tillotson CM ’15 proposed an Indian theme for CMC’s annual Wedding Party. The proposal has been met with both support and criticism from students across the 5Cs, with some students expressing concern that the party would amount to or condone cultural appropriation.
During that meeting, the Executive Board discussed the potential positive and negative effects of hosting an Indian-themed Wedding Party. Some members suggested that the party could be a venue for students to ask questions about Indian culture and that workshops could be set up before the party to educate students on appropriate outfits. Others raised concerns that ASCMC would not be able to make sure that every student acts appropriately, and that ASCMC might be blamed for inappropriate student behaviors.
Ekta, the 5C South Asian student association, held an open forum Nov. 12 at Vita Nova at Scripps College titled “Appropriation vs. Appreciation: Open Forum on an Indian Wedding Party.” The forum was moderated by Pitzer College Associate Professor of Environmental Analysis Brinda Sarathy.
Sarathy, who is of South Asian descent, said that she was contacted late Tuesday evening to moderate the forum, though she had no knowledge of the controversy surrounding the party at the time. At the forum, Sarathy suggested that attendees form multiple small-group discussions, but she said that more vocal individuals, citing limited time available, wanted to talk with the group as a whole.
Sarathy said that she was concerned that some students might have felt unsatisfied with the discussion and that she was reaching out to such students.
Ekta’s co-presidents Parth Patel PO ’15 and Anshu Shah CM ’15 declined to comment on the details of the forum or on the proposed theme.
“Ekta’s leadership is diligently working towards gathering perspectives and providing closure to individuals affected by this discussion,” Patel and Shah wrote in an email statement to TSL. “We decline to comment at the moment because we strongly feel that a premature publication will stifle the discourse that is currently happening and be isolating and triggering for some individuals within our community.”
Discussion about the suggested theme has taken place outside the forum and ASCMC meetings.
Tanvi Rajgaria PO ’18 said that the risk of causing emotional damage and marginalizing a minority group on campus outweighs the possible benefits of holding an Indian-themed Wedding Party.
“If even one person feels that their culture has been appropriated, it’s too many,” Rajgaria said.
Aman Raghuvanshi CM ’18, a native of New Delhi, India, said that he understands concerns about cultural appropriation but feels that an Indian-themed wedding party could be held in a respectful, sensitive way.
“Having Indian music, Indian food or allowing people to wear Indian clothes: You’re just taking what already happens and putting it in the context of a college event,” Raghuvanshi said. “For example, when they had the Diwali party no one had a problem with that. To sort of take that and replicate it with the Indian wedding is not that hard to do.”
Niyati Shenoy PO ’15, an international student from India, wondered whether the party could incorporate an Indian theme into its existing atmosphere.
“There’s a lot of different kinds of Indian weddings, and I can’t really think of any that involves the kind of things that happens at the Wedding Party,” Shenoy said. “I’m just wondering, how could this possibly be tasteful? I’m trying to envision it, but I can’t.”
Abhishek Biyani CM ’17 said that he would welcome an Indian-themed party, provided that discussions involving Ekta take place beforehand to ensure that people know how to respectfully participate. Biyani noted that planning for the party should include South Asian student groups and address cultural differences between regions of India.
“Trust me; coming from India, Indian weddings are the most fun thing ever,” Biyani said.
Varun Puri CM ’16 sees the party as an opportunity to have fun and to “showcase our culture to our friends.”
“Being Indian is something I’m extremely proud of,” he added. “And because of this curiosity people have about me, I’ve been able to spread my culture and make a lot of friends.”
However, he noted that students’ opinions about the party differ based on their own experiences.
Khushboo Jain PO ’18 said that she feels an Indian-themed wedding party will help educate students about Indian culture.
“Many people have a narrow view of other cultures … This event could help them see that there is more to India than the three things they already know about it,” Jain said.
However, Jain acknowledged the danger of cultural appropriation.
“There have been instances when my culture has been appropriated, and that’s a personal struggle,” Jain said. “It’s an internal fight—what is my culture, what do people think of my culture, what do I think of my culture?”
According to an article published by the Forum, the Executive Board discussed the proposal and concerns about cultural appropriation at its Nov. 9 meeting without reaching a conclusion on whether to pursue the Indian theme of the Wedding Party. Tillotson declined to comment on the proposal.
Updates: This article was updated Nov. 22. It originally indicated that Parth Patel is a CMC student.
The article was updated Nov. 23. It originally indicated that Tanvi Rajgaria is a member of the class of 2015 and used the incorrect preferred gender pronoun for Khushboo Jain.