Common Ground Hosts Dialogue on Cultural Appreciation


Common Ground held an event on Monday, Nov. 4 in the D’Angelo Center meant to create a dialogue on what they titled “Cultural Appropriation.” Taking place during Native and Indigenous Heritage Month, this was the first Common Ground dialogue of the year, and the online flyer said the event “will share perspectives, explore concepts, and deepen dialogue around the very timely topic of cultural appreciation versus appropriation.

The event was held by the Common Ground Dialogue Facilitators sophomore Grace Musser and seniors J’mi D. Worthen and LeChae K. Moore. The first thing they did was introduce themselves and discuss the “ground rules and expectations,” which involved the respecting of others’ opinions and beliefs, and to speak from one’s own experiences, not a group’s, then everyone introduced themselves.

At the beginning of the event, Musser reminded everyone that the event was a dialogue, not a debate or discussion, because at those two, “we’re just trying to get our point across.” Instead, she explained how “we’re coming into this trying to learn from each other, to let down our own judgements, in an attempt to come to a common understanding.”

After introductions, terms were defined to increase understanding, then everyone was asked to participate in a “Kahoot” game, where multiple images and videos were put on the board, such as Katy Perry’s music video to “Dark Horse,” and everyone was asked to vote whether they thought the image was cultural appreciation and appropriation.

After the game, the conversation truly began and many shared their personal experiences and their questions, with answers coming often from the guests, not the leaders of the event. They discussed specific examples such as Selena Gomez’s music video for her single “Come and Get It,” and other situations where cultural appropriation may have been taking place.

Respect was necessary for the event, and Musser, to encourage progressive conversation, wanted to “emphasize using your personal experience, because personal experiences and emotions and feelings help deepen understanding of these types of issues.”

Following this advice, personal experiences were openly discussed in efforts to give clarification on topics in a more realistic light. Everyone seemed eager to learn at the event, even raising questions over actions they had done and asking if they were appropriate. Questions over Halloween costumes, henna and cultural events were discussed in this way, such as el Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday held on Nov. 2, translated to “Day of the Dead.” 

Students began to question their choices more, such as a Senior named Laura, who is from an area in Texas that has what she called a “rich Mexican culture.” There, she participated in the celebration of Cinco De Mayo in school, and she feared that she had been participating in cultural appropriation, despite how she was still learning about the history of the holiday. To this, Worthern, who having gone through something similar, offered the advice that there are “blurred lines, and we don’t really know who gets to say what is appropriation and what isn’t.” Even though it wasn’t a choice completely made by her, or something she could change, she had a desire to question her life decisions and work towards preventing cultural appropriation.

Towards the end of the event, Worthern asked the group about possible solutions to the current issue, saying “How do we become more aware of cultural appropriation?” Multiple answers were brought up and much of the conversation led to the general consensus that if one isn’t sure if what they are doing is cultural appropriation or appreciation, it shouldn’t be done. 

The Common Ground program is through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and, according to the St. John’s website, “provides opportunities for diverse groups of students to come together to engage in peer-led dialogues about issues that have important implications in our society.” This was just their first dialogue of the year. Their next event will be held on Dec. 5, so keep an eye out for their flyers on the MySJU homepage or on St. John’s affiliated media.