There is Power in a Union (to ban Sombreros)

If you haven’t heard about the great sombrero kerfuffle of 2015 then let me fill you in.

Last week newspapers across the country carried the story that the student union of UEA had banned a local Tex Mex restaurant from handing out sombreros. This has led to accusations of ‘political correctness gone mad’, and a lot of general smugness from middle aged journalists and their readers.

How and why this story has blown up so much is a mystery, but it probably won’t come as much of surprise when I say that this is the epitome of mountains being made from mole hills – and I’m not talking about the union’s decision.

So what actually happened?

Last week, during the Freshers’ Fair in the LCR, Pedro’s (the restaurant in question) was handing out sombreros to new students as part of its advertising. When Union Officers found out they asked the stallholders to stop, citing their advertising policy which the restaurant had been informed of before the event. The Union Officers felt that the free sombreros were not in line with their blanket ban on, “Discriminatory or stereotypical language or images aimed towards any group or individual”. Sombreros fall pretty squarely into the ‘stereotypical images’ box.

I think it is quite reasonable to disagree with the Union’s belief that people not of Mexican descent wearing sombreros is offensive, but the amount of outrage levelled against the Union is extraordinary.

The union’s facebook page was covered in comments from people criticising the officers’ decision, one memorable comment said, ‘I don’t understand why we’re in the top three for student satisfaction when the union does things like this’, (admittedly I have turned down the language). The ability to wear a sombrero around campus has never been central to my enjoyment of the student experience, but each to their own.

Rules like these exist to prevent racism and cultural appropriation – in short, to make UEA a welcoming and safe space for all its students. Can the Union Officers make mistakes? Yes. Might they have misjudged this situation? Yes, but I would rather we have a dozen ‘#somberogates’ than one student be made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome because of their ethnicity.

At the end of the day, Pedro’s is probably enjoying far greater footfall than usual thanks to the coverage, and the Union has said that it will review its policies – so has anyone really lost out?

Like I said, mountains out of molehills.

(You can follow this link for the union’s statement)



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