For the past 15 years, Pitzer College’s Reggae Fest has raised concerns among some students about cultural appropriation. In an effort to address instances of White Supremacy, Pitzer students of color groups presented a list of demands to the Pitzer community in spring 2016, calling for the reallocation of Reggae Fest funds “to be used toward programming or financial aid that supports Black students instead of furthering their marginalization on campus.” In response, Pitzer Student Senate announced that it had frozen funds for Reggae Fest.
“Senate has freezed Reggae Fest’s funding until they either address the concerns or come up with some sort of plan to reform the festival. If those concerns aren’t addressed within the coming weeks and months, Reggae Fest’s funds will be appropriately reallocated,” said Harrison Sattley PZ ’19, Pitzer Senate Treasurer.
“Reggae Fest did send out a response to the list of demands. But, the response really wasn’t adequate, because it didn’t really address the problems with Reggae Fest; and it related more to the history of Reggae Fest, rather than the problems of cultural appropriation,” continued Sattley.
The initial response stated: “We understand why a festival like this can easily appropriate many aspects of Jamaican culture if proper precautions are not taken. However, unless we are gravely misinformed (and like I said there may be details that we are missing, and we would be happy to become more informed if that is the case!), we believe that a festival like ours represents a case of cultural appreciation.”
This view of cultural appreciation is not held among all 5C students. In an email to TSL, Julia Foote PO’18 , a Jamaican international student, shared her experience of Reggae Fest.
“As a first year, I was really excited about the idea of a festival dedicated to celebrating my culture because there’s not that many avenues to explore it, or even share it with others here in Claremont,” she wrote. “However, the narrative surrounding Reggae Fest as a time to just smoke weed (the event on Facebook starts at 4:20PM…even though 4/20 didn't originate in Jamaica or the wider Caribbean), doesn’t sit well with me as it just perpetuates the idea that Jamaicans (and Caribbean people in general) just sit around and smoke weed all day. To me, Jamaica is so much [more] than that and it’s disheartening to see that’s how it’s 'marketed' at the festival.”
Foote wrote that she questioned how much research went into the festival and “what gives a particular student group the agency/authority to put on a festival celebrating a culture that they have not lived/experience?”.
Speaking to the history of leadership of Reggae Fest, Kimberly Ha PZ’ 18, Asian Pacific American Coalition President, notes that Pitzer student organizations, like Kohoutek, Pitzer Outdoor Adventures (POA), and Reggae Fest “have historically been very white spaces.”
“If you look at Kohoutek, POA, and Reggae Fest, most of the students that participate in those activities are not students of color,” Ha said. “And so when [Senate] allocates all of this money to these clubs, they’re not allocating this money to students of color, even though it’s for everyone.”
Alayna Session-Goins, Director of Student Activities at Pitzer College, said that she thinks “it would be beneficial for Pitzer students to think critically about that budget and to think critically about where that money has historically gone.”
“I will be honest that it was kind of odd at first seeing that Reggae Fest was being run by 3 white guys,” admitted Xandrine Smith-Griffin PZ ’19, a member of the Black Student Union and of Reggae Fest’s planning committee last year. “I was a part of [Reggae Fest], and there were times where I found myself being uncomfortable with the artists we were choosing…I have a personal guilt that I was a part of a festival that made other people on campus feel uncomfortable– myself included [after] the festival.”
“I do plan to be involved in it this year and make it a festival that doesn’t make people uncomfortable and that all people can engage with,” Smith-Griffin added. “[Reggae Fest] is definitely moving in a completely new direction. [This concern] is being taken seriously. If it happens this year, these concerns will be more than addressed.”
Reggae Fest's new leadership acknowledges its history of cultural appreciation.
“I understand the cultural appropriation comments, and I see it. That’s why, as president this year, I really want to go in a new direction,” Justin Preciado PZ’19, Reggae Fest President, said. “This is my first time running [Reggae Fest] and my first time on Senate. I want to get rid of any signs of disrespect, and if there is a Reggae Fest, I want everybody to help out and voice their opinion.”
Eager to create a community event, Preciado wants to change Reggae Fest to a festival that potentially features music outside of the 5C norm, “outside of EDM, Rock, and Alternative.”
But “time’s ticking,” said Preciado. “It’s already October, and we usually do mid-November. We might push it to next semester.”
It remains unclear whether Reggae Fest will occur this school year and whether Reggae Fest will even be called Reggae Fest, if it does happen.