ASUCD Executive Office issues apology following accusations of cultural appropriation and fat shaming
On Feb. 25, ASUCD hosted its Block Party on the Quad, where the association offered a myriad of activities for students to participate in as part of its Student Appreciation Week closing celebration.
Among those activities was an attraction in which students could dress in sumo suits and wrestle each other. The activity immediately drew criticism from members of the student body, who accused ASUCD of fat shaming and culturally appropriating Japanese culture.
According to the students who raised this issue to ASUCD, the sumo suits trivialized Japanese culture and the history of Japanese rikishi or sumo wrestlers.
Once the issue was brought to ASUCD’s attention, ASUCD’s Executive Office, consisting of President Mariah Kala Watson, Vice President Gareth Smythe and Controller Francisco Lara, immediately issued an apology for the incident and commended the students that brought the issue to light.
“We’d like to apologize for any harm the ‘Sumo Suit’ may have caused you all. This lapse in judgment is completely ASUCD’s fault and responsibility alone,” said ASUCD’s Executive Office in a Facebook post. “We are thankful to the student who courageously brought this issue to our attention […] This was an egregious oversight and it will hopefully not happen in the future.”
Scott Tsuchitani, a Ph.D. student in cultural students, believed the incident was evidence of the lack of awareness of the racism against Asian and Asian American students.
“My overall impression is that this conversation is in itself an expression of white supremacist anti-Asian structural racism. If people are genuinely concerned with the needs of Asian Americans, then why are Asian American voices not front and center in this conversation?” Tsuchitani said via email. “Instead, Asian Americans are treated as mute, hapless victims, devoid of agency, a.k.a. the ‘model minority’ stereotype. That is what I see being reinscribed by this conversation.”
Tsuchitani went on to say that he was not pleased by ASUCD’s apology and called for more action from the association.
“It is pitiful that the ASUCD would pathologize the so-called victims as in need of treatment instead of reflecting more deeply on what is needed to address ASUCD’s own failure in this situation,” Tsuchitani said. “From my limited perspective, I would suggest that the foremost need for treatment might well be for cultural competency training for ASUCD itself. That is much more relevant here than any Orientalist history of sumo wrestling.”
Tsuchitani was not the only student who felt victimized and upset by the sumo suits. Phil Jones, a fourth-year economics student, said that he was shocked by the sumo wrestling event at the Block Party. He also claimed that the sumo wrestling showed insensitivity to overweight Americans.
“To be honest, I was shocked. February 19 was Remembrance Day for Japanese internment during WWII, and some of my Japanese friends were heavily traumatized by seeing their culture mocked in such a clearly racist fashion,” Jones said in a Facebook comment on the Block Party’s event page. “Not to mention, as a Heavy-American, I don’t appreciate the blatant Fat-Shaming involved with caricaturing one of the few sports traditionally enjoyed by Heavy individuals. I honestly feel reparations payments are in order to affected individuals, and that those responsible for the grossly negligent oversight should immediately resign from their ASUCD posts.”
However, not all students were as offended by the sumo suits and felt that the situation was blown out of proportion.
“This was obviously not malicious, this is just people finding something to be mad about,” said Taylore Kadin, a third-year international relations major, in a Facebook comment.
For more information on the situation, view the discussion on the Block Party’s event page or email email@example.com.
Written by: Sangeetha Ramamurthy – firstname.lastname@example.org