In an attempt to share some Caribbean Culture, the Caribbean Student Alliance hosted what I consider to be one of the most successful cultural events of the semester. And I assure you this is not due to the lack of cultural events, but rather to the energy and beautiful music which filled the Villard Room and exploded through Main Building on Saturday, Oct. 11.
At least 10 different drums and drummers were seated in front of the audience. Behind them, there was a person on a keyboard, and in the front, there were at least three musicians playing the saw—the staple instrument of the of the Rake ‘n’ Scrape rhythm. Aside from its physical presence, The Bahamas Rake ‘n’ Scrape Company generated a rhythm you could feel through your body as it bounced off every square inch of the Villard Room. Each of the hits by each drummer was felt through the space, making the audience open their eyes and mouths in amazement. The pounding of the drums and the chords of the keyboard invited the audience to dance, and as I looked around the room, I noticed spectators could not help but tap their feet or swing their body side-to-side with the music.
As the event progressed I noticed the small audience present. I would say that no more than fifty people were enjoying the performance. The majority of the spectators were students of color. No more than 10 white people were present, of which only half were students. The other half was composed by a family of four and a security guard on duty. At first I tried to pass this off as a coincidence, but the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got.
While I tried to enjoy the delicious coconut rice and beef patties, I could only think about the precarious turn out. I tried to come up with different reasons for why people did not show up, but I could not come up with a proper excuse for Vassar’s “diverse, socially aware and progressive” student body. At the time I thought students might have been studying for midterms, or that maybe the CSA had done a poor job at advertising the event. Yet, both of these reasons were easily invalidated.
After the event, I talked to Lauren Glinton ‘16 who planned it. I asked if she thought the poor turnout was in part due to poor advertising; to this she responded “We had a big poster up in the College Center and smaller posters in the Retreat, all dorms, the Deece, Library, Rocky, Chicago Hall, OLB on Friday, Oct. 3 (eight days before the event). We created a Facebook page about the event that same night. The event was featured on the ALANA Center bulletin board of events in the College Center as of Friday, Oct. 3rd and was also featured in the Monday, Oct. 6th edition of the ALANA Manifesto. The event was part of the Oct. 9th through 13th Vassar Events email. We also did an interview with The Misc and this was published in the Thursday, Oct. 9 publication of the newspaper. In addition to this, our event was mentioned in emails sent out by VISA (Monday, Oct. 6), the OIS office (Wednesday, Oct. 8), the VSA (Thursday,Oct. 9), ASU (African Students Union) and in several emails sent out by our secretary Karina Mateo [’16.]”
It became clear that there was virtually no way to excuse the student body for not attending the event. After some thinking, I have concluded that the reason for such a poor turnout by students is a direct lack of interest. As a predominantly white institution which prides itself in diversity, Vassar College’s student body lacks sympathy, inclusivity and a simple desire to learn about different music traditions and cultures. This can be seen by the comparatively successful Mug night turnout the night previous to the Rake ‘n’ Scrape event.
Without pointing fingers at administration, we can see a clear problem of interests and cultural exploitation present at Vassar College. This can be understood when students are only willing to participate in another culture when there is a direct benefit, such as grinding, partying or hooking up on a Friday night. What is much more alarming, however, is the amount of attention other events dealing with people of color and different cultures receive.
We can all recall the profiling issue which sprung a campus wide dialogue hosted in the Villard Room last school year. On that occasion, the Villard Room was completely full, as I remember students standing by the walls attentively listening to the panelists. As it is the nature of Vassar College, the space was predominantly filled with white bodies. Every time a person of color spoke or said what people considered to be a valid point, students snapped their fingers in approval and support. At the time, such energy directed to a struggle only lived by a minority brought hope and created an atmosphere of progress and change.
However, in hindsight, such events seem almost like opportunities for the student body to feel proactive and validated. In a time when the term “cultural appropriation” is thrown around almost as much as “white privilege,” it seems as if the true reason behind such event was “struggle approbation,” as students of color and other cultures have to be in literal danger to get any kind of attention or recognition. Students are more than ready and willing to help and bear arms when minorities are directly under attack, but when they are invited to share and celebrate said minorities’ cultures, they are as ready to turn their heads the other way, sending a loud and clear message of disinterest. Perhaps progress is not only snapping your fingers in approval of someone else’s struggles, but rather taking the time to celebrate and try to understand their victories and traditions.
The poor turnout at the past Saturday, Oct. 11 Rake ‘n’ Scrape event portrays a larger problem that cannot be excused or explained as “another unsuccessful event at Vassar College.” It represents the lack of interest in different cultures by the totality of the student body. It serves as a counter part of previous cultural events dealing with inequality, sending out a loud and clear message to the minorities of the school: “We are only interested in you when we can gain something from your situation, especially when you are under attack.”
It baffles me how there are at least 30 students at almost every single No-ViCE concert every Thursday night while no more than 50 students showed up to an event that rarely happens at Vassar. Or how 60 percent of juniors go abroad in order to be “immersed” and learn about a different culture, when in reality you don’t have to walk very far to attend one of these events that teleports you to another world. Next time, before you snap your fingers in approval of someone’s hardships, try to clap for who they are.
The Bahamas Rake ‘n’ Scrape Company ended their performance by inviting the audience to dance and play the drums onstage. For an hour their drums silenced any kind of message of disinterest, and for an hour we celebrated the culture, tradition, music and food of the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
—Tomas Guarinzo ’16 is a cognitive science and studio art double major.