A group of about 15 students protested a performance by Carrie Grossman ’00, entitled “An Evening of Devotional Music” Thursday night. The performance was held in Smith-Buonanno Hall and was advertised as an “intimate evening of inquiry, music and meditation,” according to the description of the event on Facebook.
Before Grossman began, student leaders of the Contemplative Studies Departmental Undergraduate Group issued an opening statement regarding the protesters: “We see ourselves, as well as anyone that engages in the fruits and perils of globalization that are running their course, as responsible for a constant and critical examination of our behaviors, beliefs and attitudes.” The DUG had previously found out about the planned protest of the event and added a question-and-answer session to the end of the performance. But the DUG leaders also said that while they planned the event with good intentions, they “humbly acknowledge that those intentions do not preclude harm and hurt that we may have inflicted.”
As Grossman began describing her experience with Hindu chanting, the students began to ask her questions on her appropriation of Hindu culture. “How does your whiteness impact how you engage with these cultures?” one student asked.
Another student said that Grossman’s website used “disturbing and appropriative language” because it says that she “enjoys … pretending to be a Vedic priestess.” Grossman addressed these questions by describing how she discovered chanting on a visit to India, saying that she “found (chanting) very powerful and very healing.” She then reiterated that there would be a discussion after her performance and began chanting.
The student protestors continued to ask questions, but several audience members turned around and asked them to be quiet. In addition, some of the audience members stood up and moved to where the protesters were sitting to ask them to leave. The students were “asked to leave by the deans or to stay if we wanted” due to their constant questions, wrote Sohum Chokshi ’18, one of the student protestors, in a Facebook message to The Herald. But Chokshi said that the students left “because they wanted us silent.” As Chokshi exited, he announced that the protesters would hold their own kirtan, a form of Hindu chanting, outside the room.
After her performance, Grossman and several members of the audience joined the protesters outside the hall for a question-and-answer session.
“What is your working definition of cultural appropriation?” asked Aanchal Saraf ’16. Grossman responded by saying that she defined it as using elements of other cultures “in your own way.” Later, Grossman apologized for not understanding the consequences of her action or the offense that they would cause. Saraf responded, “You saying that it wasn’t intended to be harmful doesn’t make it an apology.” Both Saraf and Chokshi led the discussion with Grossman and highlighted the different ways that Grossman has the ability to give performances at the expense of minorities.
Toward the end of the question-and-answer session, the conversation turned toward the actions that Grossman could take in the future to create systemic change. “Use your privilege to make structural change,” Saraf said. “You as a white person are protected.” Saraf closed the discussion by saying that she wanted Grossman to leave with that message because “that’s what radical love looks like.”