Let’s use homecoming luau theme issue as a learning experience

Bowman HallIn my previous blog post I addressed a concern regarding the cultural appropriateness of our homecoming’s luau theme. On Thursday, the Diversity Leadership Team, Homecoming Committee and Multicultural Student Services sponsored a conversation with Phyllis Braxton, from PINK (Pursuing Intercultural Needs & Knowledge) Consulting to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of this issue.

I participated and appreciated the candid conversation that took place. Many heartfelt comments were shared. Some themes were:

  • We missed an opportunity to directly include the voice of native Hawaiians or Polynesians in our decision-making.
  • We should consider withdrawing the theme altogether.
  • Marketing materials have already circulated containing the theme, which can’t be pulled back.
  • We could continue with the theme and use this as an opportunity to learn more about the true significance of what a luau celebration truly means to the Hawaiian culture.
  • The Homecoming Committee has worked diligently to make this year’s array of events both positive and enjoyable.

The last point was punctuated by a round of applause by those in attendance Thursday, and I certainly want to commend the committee for its hard work under trying circumstances.

The dialogue at Thursday’s event was very productive, and a faculty member of native Hawaiian descent shared some of the history and cultural significance of the luau. The discussion convinced me that we truly do have an opportunity to learn more about the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.

To that end I would encourage you to check out the Polynesian Cultural Center’s history webpage at http://www.polynesia.com/polynesian_culture/hawaii/index.html#.Vg7sLJf5JiY. The Polynesian Cultural Center is in Laie, on the northern shore of Oahu. I’ve visited the center and found it to be an outstanding learning resource.

I’m excited that homecoming is upon us, and I would remind our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members that our theme does have cultural significance to native Hawaiians and Polynesians. I would therefore ask that you respect and honor those cultures by being civil to all and by making responsible and safe decisions.

Please keep in mind that one of UW-Stout’s key values is “the nobility of spirit, a diversity of people, respect and inclusion for all.” Let’s exemplify those values in our words and actions as we enjoy our homecoming weekend so that everyone can find it a rewarding experience.

Go Blue Devils!