The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Senate Takes Issue with Dining’s Lunar New Year

Senate meeting

Amherst, MA — On Monday, Senate voted to endorse the following letter, directed toward the Director of Residential Dining Services Auxiliary Enterprises. The letter was cosponsored by Vice Chair Esther Oh, the Academic Oversight Committee, the Social Justice Empowerment Committee, and 41 cultural RSOs on campus.

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The University of Massachusetts Amherst prides itself on its devotion to excellence. The
diversity of our campus and the quality of the amenities provided to students—the award-
winning dining commons, in particular—are two among many outstanding facets of the
institution that distinguish our University and exemplify what makes it so attractive to
prospective students from a variety of backgrounds.

UMass Amherst celebrates the ethnic diversity present on campus, and seeing as how important
cuisine is to one’s cultural heritage, many such celebrations are hosted by the dining commons.
Every day, our dining boasts an array of delicacies impressive by any measure. These
celebrations of the diversity of varying cultures represent our interest in cultivating and
maintaining an inclusive environment, accepting and respectful of all people entering our
campus.

While the intent of these celebrations is, without a doubt, well-intentioned, the Student
Government Association has heard concerns from the general undergraduate student body
regarding the misrepresentations of cultures at the dining commons. The most frequent
comments concern the Lunar New Year events that occur at dining commons campus-wide, put
on under the name ‘Chinese New Year’. However, Lunar New Year celebrations happen in many
East Asian countries—not only China—including Cambodia, Korea, Mongolia, Nepal Thailand,
Tibet, and Vietnam. Students have mentioned in their comments a centrality of Chinese cuisine,
decorations, and garments during such dining events. Students have additionally voiced concern
about the exoticization of cultures in several instances: the process by which employees wear
traditional Chinese clothing during such events; the common appearance of UMass-embroidered
traditional Japanese clothing by employees at the halls’ sushi bars; and the use of inauthentic
recipes under the names of traditional dishes.

We understand that this is a very sensitive topic, and that it is very challenging, if not impossible,
to host one of these cultural events without offending a single person. We simply request that the
management at the dining commons put more consideration into the representation of cultures
during such events. We ask the dining commons to, for the upcoming Lunar New Year
celebration, rather than use the term Chinese New Year, use Lunar New Year to include other
East Asian cultures in the representation of this holiday. We also suggest that in any future
cultural events at the dining commons, rather than providing cultural outfits for employees to
dress up in certain cultural outfits provided by the dining commons, to instead ask that the
employees voluntarily bring their own cultural clothes to work.
Below we are attaching a list of all cultural Registered Student Organizations and cultural centers
on campus, including contact information. We suggest using this list as a resource in reaching
out to students to collaborate with and to receive input on these beautiful celebrations of diverse
traditions. This would not only reflect well on the school’s reputation, forging relationships
between staff and students on campus, but would directly involve the people whose cultures are
implicated in these celebrations.

We request a meeting with you in order to discover the ways through which we can collaborate
on our shared goals. We hope that you support our interest in protecting the authenticity of
diverse cultures on this campus and the protection of tradition within, so as to promote a more
inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

 

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