College Cancels Yoga Class Over ‘Cultural Issues’
Student Leaders Put Yoga Class On Hold
A free yoga class that had been running for over 7 years was suspended by student leaders at the University of Ottawa over cultural issues stemming from how it was being practiced. It does not appear that the reasons behind the suspension are valid and instead it seems that the suspension could have resulted from a complaint from an unknown source. The class has been put on hold while student leaders debate on ways to make the class more accessible to those who feel left out of these classes.
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By Aedan Helmer – Student leaders have pulled the mat out from 60 University of Ottawa students, ending a free on-campus yoga class over fears the teachings could be seen as a form of “cultural appropriation.”
Jennifer Scharf, who has been offering free weekly yoga instruction to students since 2008, says she was shocked when told in September the program would be suspended, and saddened when she learned of the reasoning.
Staff at the Centre for Students with Disabilities believe that “while yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students … there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice,” according to an email from the centre.
The centre is operated by the university’s Student Federation, which first approached Scharf seven years ago about offering yoga instruction to students both with and without disabilities.
The concept of cultural appropriation is normally applied when a dominant culture borrows symbols of a marginalized culture for dubious reasons — such as the fad of hipsters donning indigenous headdresses as a fashion statement, without any regard to cultural significance or stereotype.
“People are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find,” said Scharf.
There were about 60 students who participated in the free program.
Scharf offered a compromise, suggesting she change the name from yoga to “mindful stretching,” since that would reflect the content of the program and would “literally change nothing about the course.”
“The point is to get people to have higher physical awareness for their own physical health and enjoyment.”
According to email correspondence between Scharf and the centre, student leaders debated rebranding the program, but stumbled over how the French translation for “mindful stretching” would appear on a promotional poster, and eventually decided to suspend the program.
Student federation official Julie Seguin sympathized with Scharf over e-mail, defending the use of the term “yoga,” and saying, “I am also still of the opinion that a single complaint does not outweigh all of the good that these classes have done.”
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