USG addresses structure on campus deemed culturally insensitive

The Undergraduate Student Government released a statement Thursday addressing a tent structure resembling a teepee that was originally set up at McCarthy Quad. Some students found it culturally insensitive.

USG said in the statement that the event did not intend to be culturally insensitive.

Photo courtesy of Julian Wolff


The structure was put up by Sambazon, an açai bowl company that co-sponsored an Environmental Student Assembly event called “Purple for the Planet,” according to the statement released by USG.

“The Environmental Student Assembly would like to sincerely apologize for the culturally inappropriate symbol that appeared on McCarthy Quad today,” the USG statement said. “What was meant to be an event celebrating eco-beauty and promoting biodiversity, co-sponsored with the acai-bowl company Sambazon, turned into something unrepresentative of our core values and our mission.”

In a statement emailed to the Daily Trojan, Sambazon also apologized for offending students.

“I am deeply apologetic that any one person was uncomfortable or offended, our main intention was to engage the USC students in our efforts to save 30 species in 30 days,” Sambazon Chief Marketing Officer Renee Junge said in the statement.

Sambazon said that its work aims to protect indigenous cultures. Sambazon is an acronym for Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon, and the company has worked to protect 2.4 million acres of indigenous land, according to the Sambazon statement.

“The structure of the tent was intended to represent a place of dwelling and community where everyone could gather to support a common cause and share purple love through the giving of acai bowls to the USC students,” the Sambazon statement said. “Sambazon extends sincere apologies to any student or groups who may have been offended by the activation that took place on the USC campus.”

Native American Student Union president Mato Standing Soldier called the structure culturally insensitive because of how similar the design was to a teepee.

“I feel like there was some good dialogue happening and even if there wasn’t, it was still being shown that there is an issue embedded in USC’s culture revolving around indigenous populations [and] how they’re represented,” he said. “I think there is a small population at USC, and people are forgetting about our roles and our voices and how we choose to be represented.”

Julian Wolff, a sophomore majoring in public policy, saw the tent Thursday morning and decided to approach the people at the structure to express his concerns.

“I told them, ‘This is a cultural image and a cultural symbol of Native people, and I don’t appreciate that your company is using this image for profit,’” Wolff said.

Wolff said he filed a bias report with the University and spoke to a USG official to express his concern. He also posted a picture of the tent in the USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens Facebook group, expressing his concerns about the structure. The post was deleted from the group at 2:36 p.m. by a moderator of the group.

“When I approached the [event] organizers I was laughed at for being concerned and upset. This cultural image/display is not up for capitalist greedy grabs!!!!,” Wolff wrote in the post in the Memes group. “University of Southern California students, faculty and administrators should be ashamed that this culturally insensitive display is on our campus!!!!”

John Lynch, an administrator of the group, said the post’s removal was not sanctioned by the page administrators.

“I’m really sad the tent post got deleted,” Lynch said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “I want the memes page to be a place where everyone can have open dialogue about campus issues. I think it’s really important for everyone to be able to discuss their ideas whether you think someone else’s opinion makes them a clown or whatever.”

Wolff said he wanted to speak up about the tent because of his experiences learning about indigenous cultures.

“For my entire life I’ve spent my summers as a docent, as a volunteer, a camper and a camp counselor at Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz.,” Wolff said. “I was constantly exposed to indigenous people and indigenous culture … I always felt a profound sense of appreciation for these cultures and learning about them respectfully.”

USG said the tent structure was not approved by the event administration.

“Once the construction of the structure was completed, we immediately recognized its detriment to our student body as being appropriative of Native American and indigenous cultures,” the statement from USG said. “As representatives of student voices, this was not tolerable by any means.”

In their statement, USG said they asked Sambazon to take down the structure and shut down the event soon after the structure was built.

“You need to make sure that things like this don’t happen,” said Standing Soldier in response to  the USG statement. “It puts a sour taste in the mouths of all indigenous members of USC, but also the large indigenous community in L.A. We pride ourselves in being an inclusive community, but when things like this happen, when there is just a lack of accountability, I think that’s just really detrimental.”

Wolff said that while he appreciated USG’s actions following the incident, he wants the organization to be more aware going forward.

“I appreciate that USG is remorseful, I appreciate that they responded in a timely manner, I appreciate that they shut down the event, and that they are fully aware of why this is not OK,” Wolff said.

Tomás Mier contributed to this report.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to include a statement from Sambazon emailed to the Daily Trojan.