Mariachi Band Images Are Not Permitted on This Campus

Well-known Mexican music tradition as depicted in an ad at the University of Vermont has greatly upset some people

by Deirdre Reilly | Updated 08 May 2018 at 10:21 AM

It’s a new week, which means there’s a new report out about campus cultural appropriation. This time, there’s news about the University of Vermont in Burlington (UVM), which has been busy flexing its politically correct muscles by condemning an image of the campus a cappella group Top Cats, in which the group depicts itself as Mariachi singers.

This isn’t a joke, and neither is this singing group. They’ve performed many times in many different musical styles and are a serious vocal talent. (See them perform in the video, below.)

But now comes the school’s Bias Response Team (yes, it’s a thing.)

The UVM group sent emails to the entire student body on Friday condemning the Top Cats for posting an event flyer for their senior show that “had the faces of three senior members superimposed on the bodies of what appears to be Mexican mariachi band members.”

"To some, the image on the flyer inadvertently supports racism and further perpetuates cultural appropriation, which dishonors the deep legacy and richness of Mexican culture," the email read, according to Campus Reform.

"Since receiving a Bias, Discrimination, and Harassment Incident Report, the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (AAEO) and the Bias Response Team (BRT) have been reviewing the information provided, and have conducted outreach to gather more information about the nature of this incident and the impact on community members, especially those members who identify as Mexican and/or Latinx," the email continued. (That last word, Latinx, is not a typo; it's the increasingly used gender-neutral form of Latino or Latina.)

The BRT argued that while "the image on the flyer may seem benign to some," they "recognize the impact this incident may have had on some of our campus community, and in particular our Latinx members."

One wonders how these young people will relate to the real world after college, when there isn't a "bias response team" on hand to soothe every discomfort and allay every fear of potential appropriation.

And the BRT obviously has forgotten an old adage: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

On April 27, the Top Cats musical group published a statement on Facebook apologizing for posting the flyer, stressing they never intended to appropriate Mexican culture.

While some students applauded the apology, others were flummoxed by the need for it.

One student commented on Facebook, "You have nothing at all to apologize for. This level of hysteria is beyond political correctness. A campus-wide email over a simple flyer? I am Latino and was/am not harmed by this."

Another opined, "What a ridiculous thing to get upset about! You shouldn't have even apologized, you did nothing wrong. They treat us like we are children here at UVM, it's awful."

The BRT email indicates the group apologized after it was notified of the "impact" the flyer had on other UVM students. The group also spent time that could have been better used preparing for finals or practicing for their upcoming gig "meeting with numerous campus organizations, including the Student Government Association (SGA)," according to the BRT email.

LifeZette reached out to UVM and received this statement, in part, in response: "The University of Vermont, as an educational institution, vigorously supports freedom of inquiry and expression. Although these freedoms protect controversial ideas, differing views, and sometimes offensive and hurtful words, the university also is committed to responding to issues of prejudice and bias that negatively impact our community."

"To accomplish these twin goals," it continued, "the [school] actively seeks an environment that appropriately reconciles free speech and academic freedom on the one hand and the maintenance of a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for all members of the university community on the other hand."

It also said, "The Bias Response Team has no authority to impose sanctions; rather, its role is to engage in educational learning opportunities across campus."

Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, an Arlington, Virginia-based organization that defends college students' right to free speech, offered her take on the university's "well-intentioned" initiative.

"Bias response teams are fundamentally un-American and have no place on college campuses."

"It's extremely difficult to have a system in place that reports speech, like a Bias Response Team, without creating a chilling effect on student speech and expression," Neily told LifeZette in an email. "The mere existence of the program establishes a punishment-by-process mechanism. Even if students are ultimately exonerated, simply going through the proceedings places a significant burden on students, by stigmatizing them as wrongdoers and distracting them from their studies."

She added, "The window of acceptable political discourse on campus is so narrow that students who express views outside that orthodoxy can be dragged through administrative proceedings based on subjective criteria like offense. Students know this, and avoid speaking altogether."

The upshot? "Bias response teams are fundamentally un-American and have no place on college campuses," Niely said.

Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor with LifeZette.

(photo credit, homepage image: UVM Old Mill building, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Jared C. Benedict; photo credit, article image: University of Vermont Panorama, CC BY-SA 3.0, by AlexiusHoratius)

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