I teach a class each spring using Gareth Morgan’s (2006) book Images of Organizations. One of the lenses presented in the book is the cultural lens. And, I show the TedTalk Dreams from Endangered Cultures by Wade Davis in class to highlight the power of this lens, as well as how dominate cultures take over oppressed cultures.
Lately, as I’ve continued focusing on the recovery process and in teaching a campus climate course this summer, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time considering the concept of cultural appropriation. Conversations about cultural appropriation usually surface in the fall around Halloween, mascots, and in reference to student organization themed parties. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of a culture by a different culture. Usually it is a point of discussion because elements of an oppressed culture are being adopted by a dominate culture.
The idea of cultural appropriation has come to mind because I have been determined to try everything that might help my left leg recover from foot drop, and two of the practices that I’ve tried are yoga and meditation. These are common practices for mindfulness that are gaining momentum in the field of student affairs. And, although I raise some questions about these concepts here, I admit that I’ve participated in them…sometimes quite avidly. In fact, I have the app calm.com downloaded on my phone, which provides a selection of free guided meditations. I used this application in the hospital, and have tried various types of yoga during my outpatient therapy. So, both meditation and yoga are on my mind as healing processes.
However, the conversation I’ve been having with my students in the campus climate summer course I’m teaching, my memory of the World Religion course I took at my undergraduate institution, as well as the Rachel Doezel and Andrea Smith issues that have surfaced, have left me stuck trying to determine if my participation in these practices is cultural appropriation. And then I watched this video by Nisha Ahuja.
I’ve done quite a bit of reading in my quest to figure it out, and admit that it has left me only considering it even more. I can’t say that I’m fully aware of where I stand on the issue, but it does lead me to wonder why practices such as prayer aren’t being included as a path toward mindfulness, as well as other such practices associated with other religions. So, I did some reading about that too, and found that prayer and mindfulness are linked. Yet, I imagine that it would be acceptable for me to teach meditation/yoga practices to my students, while prayer would be more controversial. This thought, if true, raises several questions for me.
1. When we teach these practices in courses for student affairs professionals (e.g., discussing meditation in a counseling course) are we raising the question of cultural appropriation?
2. Are we open to someone openly claiming the use prayerful practice the same way we accept meditative practice?
3. Regardless of the dominate religion, are we are teaching people to believe in a higher being?
I ask these questions, because of my current conversations, as well as because of a book Peter Magolda and Kelsey Ebben Gross (2009) wrote titled: It’s All About Jesus! Faith as an Oppositional Subculture. I read this book this summer after hearing from several of my students who identify as Christian that they don’t feel welcomed in the field of student affairs and that they wanted to read the book, but were a bit nervous to do so. I, myself, identify as a deeply spiritual person with strong beliefs of my own, and as student affairs professionals my experience is that we accept some of these practices more than others.
To add one final question to the idea of these practices being cultural appropriation, what does it mean for our value of inclusion as a field to assimilate some of the practices of eastern religions/spiritual beliefs into our western worldview and then to encourage our students to participate in that process?