At Univ. of St. Thomas, a camel isn’t just a camel

So this is racist?

Hump day. Camel. Get it?

Not at the University of St. Thomas where a plan to let the students ride a camel Wednesday, apparently the last day of class, was canceled, reportedly because some students felt it was racist.

According to Campus Reform:

But the event was subsequently cancelled after students took to Facebook to proclaim their concerns. The students said they were concerned about the money spent on bringing the camel to campus—around $500—and the implication that it would be racially insensitive to Middle Eastern cultures.

The Facebook group called “Protest Hump DAAAAAAY!” had more than 100 RSVP’d attendees before it was deleted on Wednesday.

“RHA’s goal in programming is to bring residents together in a fun and safe environment where all people can enjoy themselves,” RHA president Lindsay Goodwin said in a statement on RHA’s Facebook page. “It appears however, this program is dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment for everyone attending or providing the program. As a result, RHA has decided to cancel the event.”

Last December, the Residence Hall Association brought a reindeer to school.

University of St. Thomas Residence Hall Association Facebook page.

Last week it went with a mechanical bull for a Southern hospitality themed party.

University of St. Thomas Residence Hall Association Facebook page.

And brought in bunnies last fall to help relieve mid-term stress.

University of St. Thomas Residence Hall Association Facebook page.
  • But, but, but wait.

    Isn’t it racist of the protester/s to believe camels only exist in “Arabia” when, in fact, modern camels are descendent from (according to the wiki) “the North American Camelidae [that] spread to South America … where they gave rise to guanacos and related animals, and to Asia via the Bering land bridge”?

    The US Army had its own “camel corps”, in California, a bit over a century ago, too.

  • MrE85

    The Catholic hospital I once worked for had a live Nativity scene every year, and I was chosen as animal wrangler. Since camels are scare in southern Indiana, we used a llama instead.
    No one seemed to notice the difference.

    • John O.

      WHAT?!?! You weren’t one of the Three Wise Men?

      • MrE85

        Wiseguy, maybe

  • Joe

    How is that racist? I’m all for calling things racist when they aren’t for comedic purposes, but this just isn’t funny. Someone was screwed out of their chance to ride a camel, and the good folks at the local camel-renting outfit are out $500. You would think at a Catholic school they would be more concerned with the humping.

  • Suzanne

    Those people have more money than they know what to do with. Here’s an idea – donate it to the ASPCA and keep the animals off of campus and in an appropriate environment.

  • Anon

    This is shameful reporting by MPR, and completely overlooks the nuances of the situation. Citypages did a much better job: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2014/05/st_thomas_cancels_hump_day_event_starring_a_camel_after_students_threaten_protest.php

    I vote you actually contact the leaders of the protest and figure out what really happened rather than regurgitate the watered down version that is circulating the national news outlets.

    • Joe

      I found that Citypages article to be way more racist than the camel promotion itself

    • Well, sure, we get it, person who was afraid to provide a name. There are camels in the Middle east. The Middle East has “Arabic” people and white people at the University of St. Thomas can’t be trusted to think of “Arabic” people as anything but a stereotype. In the absence of ANY evidence that suggested a portrayal of Arabic people with “hump day,” you tapped into –one presumes.– and supplied the portrayal you claim to be repulsed by. That, by the way, is not what “nuance”.is.

      What’s particularly disgusting is the writer of the opposition piece didn’t have the guts to make his/her case on his/her own. Instead, he/she shifts the blame for her opposition to an unnamed “Arab American” friend. Not just a “friend”, but an ARAB AMERICAN friend, thus unleashing the stupid “us against them” mentality on campus.

      What might have been a more productive and harmonizing way to address the friend’s concern? By showing her that they were unfounded and that maybe it was just a nice thing the schoolwanted to do and it had NOTHING to do with a stereotype of any kind. That’s what the evidence suggests.

      Instead, a more divisive tack was taken, confirming that , because the school is predominantly white, it therefore is racist against Arab Americans.

      Too bad. You missed a good chance to make a difference. No doubt there are jackasses in the world and at UST, but what a terrible, terrible thing that there are so many among us that are defiantly against letting people pleasantly surprise them.

      How’d they get away with the reindeer and bunnies at that place?

      • Anon

        “you tapped into –one presumes.– and supplied the portrayal you claim to be repulsed by.”

        Recognizing that certain themes and tropes exist in our culture and acknowledging that they are harmful to the ones they are depicting does not imply I endorse those images. I did not on my own come up with this image. It exists in our culture and I have experienced it as part of that culture. Moreover, the people the images are trying to stereotype will feel their existence much more deeply, and understandably be sensitive to them being used, especially in a context where they are the minority on a campus that is predominantly white.

        “maybe it was just a nice thing the schoolwanted to do and it had NOTHING to do with a stereotype of any kind. That’s what the evidence suggests.

        Intent and impact are two different things. No one is arguing that the intent was for the camel to be racist. The impact, however, would have been different for the minority students on campus whose culture has been pinned to images of camels and the desert.

        Is it really such a big deal to cancel an event that would have made minority students feel alienated, when the only negative repercussions of not having the event are a bunch of college students not getting to take a selfie with a camel and instead focusing on the next campus event, of which there are many?

        • Unquestionably these stereotypes you describe need to be exorcised from our culture. But in this case, a few people are playing “six degrees of stereotype separation” in order to find it.

          And that, sadly, is being portrayed as being sensitive to a particular group, replete, of course, with the lecturing and moralizing that white people aren’t sensitive to it. And they’re right. They’re not. So “six degrees” is a dangerous game to play to because you deal in the “what might be” instead of the “what is.”

          The problem is it neuters — trivializes in a way –.actual stereotypes.

          A camel is not a stereotype. Hump Day is not a stereotype. A Lawrence of Arabia Day is a stereotype. But that’s not what this was, the evidence suggests.

          Sadly, we are only allowed so much outrage before legitimate concerns are dismissed.

          People who fight actual racism already have to contend with the concerns being dismissed as “PC” or “liberals.” I’m afraid this situation plays right into their hands and will actually make the fight far more difficult.

          • Anon

            I’m a little unclear of what you mean by six degrees of stereotype separation. Could you clarify please?

          • It’s a reference to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. A camel by virtue of being a camel, requires just under six steps — maybe three or four — to constitute a racist or ethically insensitive symbol

            The other question I have here: Do people talk at UST?..Are they taught dialogue to explain and discuss, to assure and comfort? Or is it sadly too much like the rest of America that retreats immediately to its respective corners, waiting for the bell?

          • Anon

            I can’t speak for UST’s campus, but I would say from my own, limited world-view that people retreat to their corners pretty quickly. I do appreciate you having a discussion with me.

          • Anon

            “And that, sadly, is being portrayed as being sensitive to a particular group, replete, of course, with the lecturing and moralizing that white people aren’t sensitive to it. And they’re right. They’re not.”

            I agree with you here. In addition, I think it is admirable of the student protesters to open their minds and find the empathy to understand how American culture is insensitive to minorities, and put themselves on the spot to try and combat it.

            “A camel is not a stereotype.”

            I can understand how from your point of view it is not a stereotype, but I do not think you speak for everyone in that regard. For the people of the culture that a camel would be most associated by the average American, it is something that they have been dealing with for a long time and would be much more obvious to them as a stereotype. See: http://www.adc.org/education/arab-stereotypes-and-american-educators/

            “Hump Day is not a stereotype. A Lawrence of Arabia Day is a stereotype.”

            While the camel’s presence on campus was inspired by Hump Day, and its intent was fun, that does not mean there would be no other impact. Lawrence of Arabia is not what is being discussed here.

            “So “six degrees” is a dangerous game to play to because you deal in the “what might be” instead of the “what is.”

            The problem is it neuters — trivializes in a way –.actual stereotypes.”

            If you don’t believe camels could be a stereotype, then I understand how you would come to this point. I think you are saying “choose your battles”.

            But why trivialize a group of students who are both young and inexperienced in their sincere efforts toward open mindedness? I feel that there is a topic ripe for discussion that is being glossed over because the students are inexperienced in presenting their argument. The headline “At Univ. of St. Thomas, a camel isn’t just a camel” mocks their efforts, and for the uncritical reader, feeds into their preconceived (oft reaffirmed) opinion that minorities are overly sensitive.

          • Because by definition, a camel is a camel. Just a camel. It takes as I indicated, several steps for it to become an I.sensitive racial or ethnic symbol, each requiring an assumption that may also be wrong. With each step, the odds of being wrong grow exponentially.

            Now, they also may be right. The problem is in the environment being described, the assumption becomes action ..But the action may be based on incorrect assumptions.

            That’s the danger. A better idea is to test and discuss each of these assumptions in the UST community (or any community actually).and then act based on what we k now. It’s a much healthier educational process for a source of higher education. But it has lasting rewards.

            I don’*t think we get anywhere in solving matters of race in what UST students and administration employed here. It feels like they took a big step. But that’s the danger. It only allows people to feel like they did.

            That’s what I see anyway.

            Bit I also should go on record as acknowledging that I’d kill to get on a camel. Also, I hate Wednesdays.

          • Anon

            Well, we can agree to disagree. I appreciate you expressing yourself more fully and responding to my comments.

          • ANDREW PILIMAI

            As a student from UST I can confirm that the Hump Day event had no connections to the Middle East or Arabia. The protest, in fact, was never originally about its racist potential. The initial protest was about concern with the Camel handlers potentially being rough. Students had concern it wasn’t fair for a camel to sit down and stand up for an entire day, while the reindeer and rabbits simply had to stand there and do what animals do. Another concern, which may seem more convincing, is that RHA is given a certain portion of funding for events and students felt their tuition could go to funding more productive and forward events rather than a selfie opportunity. After all, an academic institution should always have progression and scholastic growth in mind.

  • Jack

    May I suggest a field trip to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to visit the museum which has an exhibit on the paleontology of Nebraska. They had camels there. see: http://museum.unl.edu/exhibits/index.html

  • Ron Fresquez

    Don’t even think of bringing a burro on campus as Mexican Americans might be offended. No elephants from Africa or India either, you are looking at double jeopardy. And bringing that llama on campus, Peruvian American students will be rioting in the streets. Maybe an ant farm would work. However ants in an ant farm are being held against their will and we can’t have that can we.