I have been writing a great deal about my concern over the erosion of free speech on our campuses. Part of the problem is that I sometimes have a difficult time even understanding the objection to some forms of speech or association as in the ever-widening range of things deemed “micro aggressions.” The latest such example is out of the University of Ottawa where students have been told that popular yoga classed have been suspending out of concerns that they involve a form of “cultural appropriation.” Jennifer Scharf, who have been leading the free weekly yoga sessions for eight years, is understandably confused but 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.” Just for the record, the two horses on the university seal are not doing the “Lord of the Dance” yoga position.
Scharf, a yoga teacher with the downtown Rama Lotus Center, insists that the action was taken after a single complaint from a “social justice warrior” with “fainting heart ideologies.” However, student leaders insist that they have long-standing qualms over yoga as a “cultural appropriation” and that changes may have to be made to consider the implications of what people are doing in assuming these yoga positions. That may seem rather . . . well . . . twisted logic for most of us but it seems to make perfect sense in today’s environment of growing limitations on speech and associations.
The center stated “Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced” and the propriety of participating in such practices without considering where they “are being taken from.” The center noted that these cultures “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 practising yoga.”
Acting student federation president Romeo Ahimakin insists that they are simply going to examine the yoga sessions “to make it better, more accessible and more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces. … We are trying to have those sessions done in a way in which students are aware of where the spiritual and cultural aspects come from, so that these sessions are done in a respectful manner.” Putting aside the utter nonsense of the basis for suspending yoga classes, there is also the question of the right of the university to control the speech and associational rights of dozens of students who want to participate in this exercise.
In the meantime, sixty students have been told to go elsewhere for the moment if they want a culturally appropriated workout.