When multi-culturalism becomes anti-culturalism

November 24, 2015  

The student body of Canada’s University of Ottawa has suspended a free weekly yoga class because of “cultural issues” that might offend students.

The Ottawa Sun reports that the teacher, Jennifer Scharf, was informed in September that the program would not be offered in the fall semester. 

Scharf, who has been offering free weekly yoga sessions at the university’s Center for Students with Disabilities since 2008, said some 60 students participated each week last year.

A representative of the university’s Student Federation, which operates the Center, emailed Scharf that “while yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students… there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice.”

The email continued, “Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced [and the cultures from which those practices] “are being taken from.”

The Student Federation email explained its concerns: Many of those cultures “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy.” The email stated, “We need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga.”

The Sun heard from the Federation’s Acting President, a man named Romeo Ahimakin, that the yoga class had been put on hold until a way can be figured out “to make it better, more accessible and more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces.”

For those who still don’t understand the problem, Ahimakin added, “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.”

Teacher Scharf, and others, apparently still don’t understand. “People are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find,” she said. She even offered to change the name of the course to “Mindful Stretching,” but this was not accepted. 

Scharf has not given up, and said she is “fighting so hard” to keep the class going.

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