A free yoga class cancelled at the University of Ottawa because of cultural appropriation concerns garnered a lot of online response — and a fair bit of ridicule.
The class, taught by student Jen Scharf, was offered for free for seven years for the university’s Centre for Students with Disabilities, which is run by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. The class focused on physical awareness and stretching for physical benefits and not any spiritual aspect of yoga, Scharf told CBC News.
But Scharf was informed in September that the class wouldn’t be continuing because of some discomfort from students and volunteers about the “cultural issues” involved. She told CBC News that she offered to change the name of the class to focus on stretching and not yoga specifically. But the school ultimately decided to cancel the class for the time being, saying that they couldn’t decide on a suitable translation of the suggested name change in French.
Cultural appropriation refers to a dominant culture using the symbols of a marginalized culture for its own purposes, often unrelated to the original intent of the symbols. For example, the trend of wearing aboriginal headdresses to music festivals or sporting events is considered cultural appropriation, as it repurposes a garment that is a symbol of great respect for certain tribes as a fashion item.
The University of Ottawa decision received plenty of online criticism over the weekend. New York Times technology reporter Farhad Manjoo retweeted an Ottawa Sun story about the class cancellation. That tweet was itself retweeted nearly 400 times and received comment by The Atlantic senior editor David Frum, who said “yes so unacceptable the way Indians appropriated European calisthenics to create modern yoga.” Frum also shared a Yoga Journal article saying that European influence was part of the development of modern-day yoga in India.
And New York Daily News writer Bill Hammond tweeted that using the same logic, rock and roll and jazz should also be “cancelled.”