A university charity ball has been criticised for choosing a theme which some students have dubbed "racist" and is now facing a campaign to have the theme removed.
Organisers of Exeter University's safer sex ball (SSB), one of the country's biggest Aids awareness events and now in its 21st year, have come under fire for their "tribal" theme.
The music has prompted several students from the Exeter Students for Social Justice group to start up a the "Campaign Against Racist Safer Sex Ball Theme" to change the fancy dress code, saying "it needs to go".
The campaign was launched on Thursday to protest against the ball's tribal theme
The SSB, is held by RAG (raising and giving) and last year's ball attracted 4,000 students and raised £40,000, making it the biggest World AIDS Day event in the UK.
Exeter University's social justice group released a statement saying:
"RAG's theme statement requested students to be 'sensitive of other cultures' while in the same line, calling a black female celebrity the 'Queen of the Jungle'. Such a statement ignores and perpetuates the racially motivated violence students of colour experience on this campus.
"At an overwhelmingly white university, the only representation that students of colour will have at this event is in the racist stereotypes used to decorate the walls and white bodies on the dance floor."
Alexandra D'Sa, a student at the university, said: "It is fundamentally not okay for people to abstractly take aspects of other cultures and wear them as a costume.
"My main problem with the theme for the SSB is that by putting "tribal" (which is an umbrella term that a lot of people clearly don't understand; the organisers defined it as "Aztec") in the context of "Sex", it is thereby sexualising an aspect of various cultures which is completely inconsiderate regarding the rapacious nature of the British Empire."
This is the second time the ball organisers have come under fire; last year the RAG society was forced to apologise over a rape "joke" they had printed in a leaflet. The joke estimated the number of calories a man could burn off by stripping a girl naked without her consent.
The students' guild has previously released a statement concerning prejudice against minorities, which warned students:
"By parodying an appearance you are taking on the public performance of a group of persons in a stereotypical or (sometimes) mocking way. This is not reflecting the self-perception of persons of that ethnic group; it is presenting them with your subjective view of them as a group – in other words whilst you might not intend the appearance to be racist or mocking, it can appear to be both to a person of the ethnicity you are performing.
"We are asking for your consideration in making sure that your own individual behaviour is not harming, insulting or mocking another student – please think before you act and be considerate of others around you."
Matt McDonald, editor of one of Exeter's student newspapers the Tab, wrote a comment piece saying the tribal theme "is not an open invitation to dress insensitively".
"Are the Safer Sex Ball Committee and the Students’ Guild racist for allowing this to be signed off as the theme? Of course not," he wrote. "While the word “tribal” is anthropologically problematic, it does not in and of itself have overwhelming racial connotations.
Alan Hooker, a Theology and Religion student at Exeter, defended the campaign against the tribal theme.
"I do not think the campaign’s purpose is to call anyone a racist. It is saying that the theme is racist, ie the term ‘tribal’ connotes inferiority, and to argue this point is nonsensical and groundless.
"Surely, it would be far easier to change the theme and save potential inappropriateness in the first place?"
The ball, which takes place on 10 December, aims to promote awareness of sexual health as well as raising funds for charities, including the Eddystone Trust. The trust, which is the event's main beneficiary, refused to comment on the theme.
A spokesperson said: "We are not involved with deciding the theme. We only provide support and resources."
Neither Exeter's student guild nor the RAG committee could be reached for comment.
Pictures from previous safer sex balls at Exeter University:
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