Lincoln and Magdalen Colleges’ ball themes have received criticism this week.
Lincoln’s New Orleans-themed Ball has been labelled “problematic” due to alleged cultural appropriation, while Magdalen’s has been criticised on the Facebook event page for stating, “We invite you to come back in time with us at Magdalen.” This provoked a reply from one Magdalen student Arushi Garg, who wrote, “a college devoid of women and people of colour… what a place to be! Can’t wait to go back in time!!!”
Both ball committees are actively discussing the alleged problems and seeking to resolve them.
Garg told Cherwell, “1926 at Magdalen was a time when people of colour and women were entirely absent from college spaces. I felt uncomfortable with the advertising (‘Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!’).
“Obviously my demographic (woman of colour from a former colony that remains a developing country) makes me less likely than others to uncritically long for a past that privileged some more than others. But it would be nice if they cut down on the nostalgia a bit, because if we were re-living the past, the corridors of institutional spaces like Magdalen/Oxford is definitely not where you would find people of my gender, race and nationality.”
She went on to emphasise, “I wrote to the Magdalen organisers and they engaged quite respectfully with me, and are communicating with me to understand why I think this is problematic.”
Magdalen Commemoration Ball’s committee offered a statement, reading, “We have taken Arushi’s comments on board, and have spent time discussing as a committee, and with college authorities, what we think an appropriate stance would be. We simply wanted the ball to be boldly designed, and thought that 1920s art and design would enable us to do that.
“We will not be expecting people to dress in 1920s attire; we are simply using it in order to create an enjoyable evening for our guests, which they will feel is more of an ‘experience’ rather than simply a large event.
“We are of the opinion that to undertake changes now would be to undermine the considerable amount of work our design, catering and entertainment teams have already put in to what promises to be a very enjoyable evening. We have been planning the ball since February, and have taken a lot of care in planning theme-appropriate entertainment and food to date, and as such this would be a large undertaking.”
Critics of Lincoln’s Ball, including CRAE co-chairs, have claimed the New Orleans theme is showing “nostalgia for an era of history steeped in racism”.
Lincoln Ball’s committee was unable to give an official statement, but stressed they have not used any material based on ‘Dia de los Muertos,’ a Mexican holiday, or any aspect of Mexican culture, adding that this has been misinterpreted by their critic when looking at the poster.
The Lincoln committee further stated they had based their decision to use the theme on an article written by two scholars with “significant reputations on race relations” and claimed they “consider them authoritative on the topic of their city”.