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Students discuss Prism Run, cultural appropriation

Published: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 01:11

Students gathered in the Crane Room last night to discuss the Tufts Prism Run, hosted on Oct. 27 by Theta Chi, after the event sparked controversy about religious and cultural appropriation. 

During the event, co-sponsored by the Tufts Hindu Students Council (HSC) and the Asian American Alliance (AAA), students gave their thoughts on the Prism Run and whether it undermined the cultural and religious importance of the Hindu festival Holi

According to the Prism Run Facebook event page, the fundraiser was said to be “inspired by the Indian festival of Holi,” as both events involve throwing colorful powder. 

“The Color Run was being used as a secular event,” a student at the event said. “This is different from including everyone in the event, since a religious event became secularized.”

The Prism Run, previously called the Tufts Color Run, was hosted by the Theta Chi fraternity and co-sponsored with Alpha Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Leonard Carmichael Society and Tufts Association of South Asians, according to the Facebook event. All proceeds from the event went to Direct Relief, a non-profit organization that provides medicine and supplies to local health providers nationally and internationally.

President of Theta Chi Alex Kolodner apologized for offending students with the fundraiser. 

“We feel badly that we could’ve hurt somebody in any way, and that was obviously not our intent in creating this event,” Kolodner, a senior, said. “On the positive side, this has allowed a discussion to take place that didn’t before. We are appreciative that we can be a part of this discussion and that moving forward, we want to both learn from that discussion and be part of it.”

HSC President Sharada Sant explained how the Prism Run borrowed from Holi

“The Color Run and Holi are essentially the same event, and the resemblance is so similar that it is beyond being just inspired by it,” Sant, a senior, said. 

Moderators from HSC and AAA spoke about the backstory of the Holi festival, explaining how it celebrates the beginning of a new spring season. They also spoke about its connection to the Hindu deity Krishna, who is believed to have celebrated Holi with his friends and devotees. 

Sant also discussed the key features of Holi, which involve throwing brightly colored powder with people of different social classes, genders and other social groups, and elaborated on its message of the triumph of good over evil.

Krishna Soni, one of the Theta Chi philanthropy chairs and the person who initially came up with the idea for the Color Run, explained that he did not mean to exploit Holi.  

“I genuinely just wanted to spread my culture,” Soni, a senior, said. 

Students discussed whether or not the Color Run was a form of cultural appropriation or cultural exchange heatedly, raising examples of culturally insensitive Halloween costumes, the origins of blackface, the use of Native American headdress in fashion and the widely appropriated Christian holiday, Christmas.

“One of the big issues is the power dynamics in play,” AAA President Diana Wang, a senior, said during the discussion. “We have to think about who the dominant group is and whether or not they are taking advantage of a marginalized group.”

Problems with the Prism Run arose because the run was advertised as the Tufts Color Run, which associated the event with the national for-profit Color Run organization, AAA Vice President Jasmine Lee, a senior, said at the discussion.

The fact that the national event used Holi as an inspiration for profit makes it a form of cultural appropriation, according to Lee.

Theta Chi will reflect internally about whether the Prism Run was successful and if continuing the event will cause further harm before putting plans in motion to organize another event next year, Kolodner said.

Some attendees of the discussion felt like the talk was still not entirely productive, as some students felt attacked for being offended by the run.

“We want to apologize for the unsafe space that was created,” Wang said. “AAA wants to stress that it is never okay to culturally appropriate, and it must be kept in mind that everything must be contextualized to reflect the power dynamics that are in place in the United States and how it is reflected in the Tufts community. We would like to hold another discussion about what happened in this discussion for voices that were unheard, and who felt that their voices were delegitimized.”

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