No such justification or prevarication exists for Oles Down Under. Its downright sad to see that Homecoming, which this year also includes the inauguration of President David R. Anderson 74, is centered around a theme which is so brazenly exploitative.
Oles Down Under is the exact opposite of what St. Olaf College claims to seek to instill in its students. The theme panders to the sort of pernicious stereotypes that we as members of a global community ought to be seeking to actively dispel, rather than swallow hook line, and sinker. I had thought that at St. Olaf, where so many of us have real international experience and thus presumably a global perspective, we could get beyond this sort of tiresome exotic drivel. I thought wrong. If theres anything that flies in the face of a global education, its the whole-hearted, uncritical embrace of ethnocentric stereotypes.
The stereotypes which the Homecoming theme endorses arent just crass, theyre also offensive and wrong. Australia isnt just populated by strange animals, spiders, and noisy parrots; there are people there too. The Australian slang on the back of the T-shirts was current in the 1960s, and many of the factoids strewn around Buntrock are similarly inaccurate. As a matter of fact, kangaroos can indeed jump with their tails on the ground; I know many Oles who have been to Australia and have seen them do it.
The tactless and disrespectful display of a cardboard cutout of the late Steve Irwin is the least of the organizers transgressions. You wont hear any Homecoming events discussing the realities of Australian society, such as the violent homophobia and rampant racism that pervade it, or the fact that the themes conflation of white and Aboriginal culture is an insult to Australians on both sides of the color line.
Even my blanket use of the term Aboriginal is an inappropriate misnomer. Aboriginal peoples comprise some 250 linguistically and culturally distinctive groups after white Australians committed genocide against them. In most of those cultures, the boomerang is a ceremonial object as well as a tool, and Homecoming slapping it up everywhere is very close to being sacreligious. Giving away plastic boomerangs, leaving aside the disrespect of producing them in plastic, probably crosses that line. How would Christians feel if Homecoming handed out plastic crucifixes to play catch with?
Furthermore, I am quite sure that Oles Down Under would never have become reality if Australias major racial group were not Anglo-European white people. Youll never see an Ole Tribes of Africa or Ole Latinos! Homecoming. Where will this sort of theme end? Oles in Luxembourg? And what will we do for Homecoming when we run out of countries to exoticize?
People will doubtless claim that Homecoming is all in good fun and that I am overreacting. But its possible for Homecoming to be fun without being culturally tone-deaf, and people used to think it was fun to see white people put on blackface and act out crude stereotypes of African-Americans on stage, too. Oles Down Under is the same sort of thing, and it suggests that our talk of diversity and respect is only skin-deep. You dont get a pass on being considerate of other cultures, whether its for the sake of fun or not.
While it is an understandable typo, it seems emblematic that stereotyped was misspelled on the Homecoming T-shirts. Homecomings organizers should have considered more carefully both their spelling and the ramifications of their theme choice. Throw another hotdish on the barbie, folks, because things are crook in Muswellbrook on the Hill.
Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in Classics with concentrations in linguistics and in Japan studies.