Cultural Appropriation, Appreciation and Exchange…What does it all mean?

by MSC Student Life Intern, Daisy

As a person of color and an aspiring fashion designer I get asked a lot about cultural appropriation in everyday life, Halloween, and in fashion. Cultural appropriation can be very confusing, especially when trying to distinguish it from cultural exchange and appreciation.

To start of lets define some terms:

As a Mexican American, I have seen people paint their faces as sugar skulls and wear sombreros and ponchos on Halloween while yelling out “I’m Illegal, deport me!” While these may be very obvious and blatantly racist and disrespectful forms of cultural appropriation, other forms of cultural appropriation are not as easy for people to identify and understand.


Cultural appropriation is harmful because it perpetuates stereotypes, exercises modern day imperialism by treating other cultures as something that can be taken and commoditized, exotifies cultures, disrespects and steals from minority and marginalized groups.

A helpful way to look at this may be to call it social plagiarism. We all know that it is not okay to take something that is not yours when it comes to academia. Why should it be any different when it comes to cultures? It is important to do your research and credit where something comes from.

I often get questioned on why it is okay for people to wear French berets as a fashion statement and not a Native Headdress to a music festival or a Mexican sombrero to a drinking party. Or why is it okay for people of color to wear jeans and suits but not okay for people of privilege to sport box braids and “ghetto fab” clothing.

Cultural appropriation involves a dominant majority culture taking something from a marginalized group. This often has a double standard attached to it as well; for example how is it that when someone of privilege sports dreadlocks or gelled down baby hairs because they think it is cool are viewed as edgy and hip whereas someone part of the culture is be seen as “ghetto” or unprofessional.

It is also important to realize that in many cases of cultural appropriation all that is stolen is the pretty and aesthetically pleasing aspects of it. For example, when someone wears a geisha costume (like Katy Perry in her 2013 AMA performance) and uses it as a costume or prop, all cultural significance and meaning is stripped away. But it is so beautiful, what is wrong with appreciating its beauty and wanting to wear it? The problem here is that while Katy Perry may look beautiful, at the end of the day, she gets to take off the costume and does not have to deal with the stereotype and exoticism she just reinforced.

click the image to read more about Katy Perry’s culturally appropriative VMA’s performance.

A culture is not a prop, it is not something to be taken and altered for your pleasure, it is not something to wear for personal expression because you think it is cool, it is not a fashion statement.

For more literature on understanding cultural appropriation read this zine, Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation

2014 MCOR Roundup

MCOR 2014 Poster_Final

Over the last weekend the MSC had the opportunity to host its annual, and heavily attended Multicultural Student Orientation and Reception (MCOR). On Friday September 5th, we celebrated all of our returns to campus in the original home of MCOR at the newly remodeled Memorial Union. The evening kicked off with a Campus Resource Fair in Tripp Commons at 5:30, where students were able to get information from several different Professional and Academic resources on campus about the services and opportunities that they offer. For even more pictures from the events and the performances, visit


Multicultural Student Center (MSC) Interns Eric, Hiwot & Daisy staffing the MSC resource table.


MSC Intern Learesi discusses upcoming programs with two students at the student resource fair.

From there we took a trip into the newly remodeled Shannon Hall for a collection of performances by student groups with a wide variety of talents. From musical performances to cultural dances, the performances were impressive and well appreciated by the audience. The event was hosted by students Steven Rodriguez and Nailah Frye, and also included appearances by MSC Director Joshua Moon Johnson, Dean Lori Berquam, Vice Provost Patrick Sims, and University Chief of Police Susan Riseling.


Students engage in an impromptu hip hop battle up on stage.


The Wisconsin Surma dance crew performaing at MCOR 2014.

Below is a list of all the groups that performed:
• The BellHops
• Dancas Dance Club
• School of Bhangra
• University Gospel Choir
• REPLAY: HASA Dance Crew
• Wisconsin Surma

We left the performances hungry for more, and while the organized entertainment was over for the time being, guests had their appetites for more filled with the second best form of entertainment besides incredible performers. Food. The R in MCOR truly embodied the statement last but not least. As the last letter in the acronym one may think that it was less important than the other elements of the event. However, our guests were heavily receptive to the spread provided by the Wisconsin Union Catering. Lines stretched out the door and around the corner, all the way back to what else but more fun? During the reception our guests had the opportunity to dress up and get their photos taken in a photo booth with their friends, as well as explore the Great Hall and see all the tables at the Student Organization Fair. This event had an incredible turnout and was densely populated as students milled about learning more about Multicultural Student Orgs and how they can get involved in more communities on campus.


A lively discussion at the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity booth at the Student Org Fair in Great Hall, Memorial Union.


Student Org Fair in Great Hall, Memorial Union.

After food, friends, and entertainment there wasn’t much else we could ask of our guests except to dance their hearts out. From 10:30 to 1:00am in the new Playcircle Theatre we opened up the stage to some awesome First Wave performers and a DJ to allow the celebration to continue for those who wanted to burn the midnight oil.

Overall, the event was a great success and we anticipate a great year for all of our students and organizations. Be sure to come by anytime during our open hours to say hello or find a quiet place to study. And definitely take the chance to come to one or many of the plethora of events we will be putting on this semester!

The full calendar for MSC events, Fall 2014.

The full calendar for MSC events, Fall 2014.

Job Board: February 28, 2014

Assistant Dean & Director of the Multicultural Student Center

Description: The Multicultural Student Center (MSC) is a department of the Division of Student Life at UW-Madison. The director is responsible for providing vision, direction and oversight to the Center’s priorities and functions and reports to an Associate Dean in the Division of Student Life. The department and division are equal opportunity/affirmative action employers. They promote excellence through diversity and encourage all qualified individuals to apply.

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Tech Accounting & Research Manager at American Family Insurance

Application Due: n/a

Description: The Technical Accounting & Research Manager provides technical accounting expertise for GAAP and Statutory reporting issues, financial analysis of material company transactions, and financial reporting related to the company`s property and casualty (P&C) reinsurance programs, pension and benefit accounting, and software capitalization. Prepares financial results and the profit and growth plan for American Family Brokerage Inc. (AFBI) and New Ventures LLC. Manages the monitoring and reporting of capital levels for the P&C companies and peer company analysis and reporting. Provides process management of the financial close and leads process improvements for the accounting department.

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Job Board of November 15

Environmental Analysis & Review Specialist – Advanced,

Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Deadline: November 17, 2013

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is seeking candidates to fill Environmental Analysis and Review Specialist – Advanced positions. Currently two openings exist in the Division of Transportation System Development’s Bureau of Technical Services that serve as Environment Process and Documentation Specialists.  These positions are located at the Hill Farms State Transportation Building in Madison.

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Job Board of November 8, 2013

Racial Justice Youth Organizer, GSAFE

Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools (GSAFE) is hiring a Racial Justice Youth Organizer to create, implement, and evaluate our new Madison Racial Justice Program. This program is focused on building the leadership of LGBTQ youth of color in Madison public high schools.  Specifically, the Racial Justice Youth Organizer will: Work with students from the program to train student of color clubs on LGBTQ issues, in an effort to make more safe and supportive environments for LGBTQ youth of color.

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Job Board 11 / 1

Job Board of November 1, 2013

Expansion Fellow, Food Recovery Network

Deadline: October 31, 2013

FRN is looking for a fellow who will work as part of the team in the national office.  You will primarily work with the expansion team and report to the Director of Expansion. Additional work with other members of the National Team to enhance FRN’s programming and overall function will be required.  This fellowship will offer many opportunities for skill development in areas such as leadership and communication. There is the opportunity for the position to turn into a permanent position in the future.

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JOB BOARD 10 / 25


Community Organizer, People Acting in Community Together (PACT) 

Deadline: Resumes will be accepted on a rolling basis.  However, interviews will begin almost immediately.

*Two Different Positions Open*

People Acting in Community Together (PACT) is seeking to fill a position for a community organizer with a special focus on outreach to the Vietnamese community to support our growing multicultural and inter-faith grassroots community organizing work.  This Community Organizer will work with people and institutions of other ethnic and faith backgrounds, as well.  Community organizers with PACT work to engage and develop grassroots leaders based in member congregations and schools.  Community organizers train individual grassroots leaders and local organizing committees to identify priority community concerns, research potential solutions and secure commitments from policy makers to implement these solutions to improve the community.

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