Student union blasted for halting yoga classes over concerns of 'cultural genocide'
Published 23/11/2015 | 11:28
A student union’s decision to stop free yoga classes over concerns they were not “culturally sensitive” has been branded absurd.
Student leaders at the University of Ottawa decided to halt the free classes offered by its Centre for Students with Disabilities because they felt “uncomfortable” with the "cultural issues" involved.
The decision meant that about 60 students in yoga instructor Jennifer Scharf’s weekly class lost out on the program, which had been going since 2008.
“I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India," she told CBC NEws.
"I told them, 'Why don't we just change the name of the course?' It's simple enough, just call it mindful stretching.… We're not going through the finer points of scripture. We're talking about basic physical awareness and how to stretch so that you feel good.
"This went back and forth until the higher-ups at the student federation got involved and we got an email routed through the student federation basically saying they couldn't decide on French name so we've had to cancel it for now.”
In a statement emailed to students, the Centre for Students with Disabilities, which is run by the Ottawa student federation, wrote: “[Many of the cultures Yoga comes from] have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy… we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga.”
The centre went on to say: "Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced and which cultures those practices are being taken from.”
The concept of cultural appropriation is normally applied when a dominant culture borrows symbols of a marginalized culture for dubious reasons without any regard to cultural significance.
In a French-language interview with Radio-Canada, student federation president Roméo Ahimakin said there were no direct complaints about the class but that it had been suspended regardless because of the “issues and ideas around it”.
Speaking to the Ottawa Sun, Ms Scharf said that arguments of cultural appropriation did not apply to the programme at the university.
“I'm not pretending to be some enlightened yogi master… and the point (of the program) isn't to educate people on the finer points of the ancient yogi scripture," she told the Sun.
"The point is to get people to have higher physical awareness for their own physical health and enjoyment.
"People are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find," said Ms Scharf.
"There's a real divide between reasonable people and those people just looking to jump on a bandwagon.
“And unfortunately, it ends up with good people getting punished for doing good things."