Homecoming theme sparks debate over cultural appropriation


On November 5, Berkeley High School student leadership is holding a Homecoming dance, which will take place at the Donahue Gym. The dance will have a tropical theme, in collaboration with the Polynesian Club, according to Drew Henderson, junior class president and lead organizer of the event. 

Henderson described how the students in charge of planning Homecoming wanted to make sure it was appropriate as soon as they were informed of the theme, as it touches on a few cultures. He approached the Polynesian Club during the club fair to hear their thoughts, and asked if they would be interested in being involved in the planning of the dance, especially regarding aspects that relate to their culture.

“We didn’t want to annoy someone by representing their culture in a dance without first asking someone a part of that culture,” Henderson said. 

According to Henderson, Homecoming will feature two dances performed by members of the Polynesian Club. The club will also present on the dances’ significance to the culture, which will allow students to educate themselves on the culture they are celebrating, Henderson said. 

Additionally, the Polynesian Club has helped decide what attire is appropriate, urging students to avoid plastic leis, as well as grass skirts and coconut bras. According to Angel Nautu, a senior in Communication Arts and Sciences and member of the Polynesian Club, a proper lei holds a large amount of cultural significance to those of Polynesian descent. He added that grass skirts and coconut bras are not appropriate to wear to the dance: “We just don’t want to see our culture worn as a costume,” Nautu said.

Henderson explained that the main reasoning behind partnering with the Polynesian Club was to ensure that no students felt that their culture was being taken advantage of or misrepresented. He spoke with a few students who voiced their concerns about the theme, and how it could be inconsiderate to certain cultures.

“I’ve already reached out to some of those students about their thoughts and concerns and got to talk to them over the phone,” Henderson said. “We came up with ideas on how to better ensure that not only are we appreciating the culture, we’re pushing other students in the direction of appreciating the culture.”

The theme has sparked conversation among Berkeley High students about the differences between cultural appropriation and appreciation. According to Nautu, seeing one’s culture represented can be an extremely positive experience, though problems arise when the culture is being taken on as a costume, with no thought to the history or people behind it.

“When we see other people appreciating our culture we get excited, we get happy, we support them when they’re educated about the culture.” Nautu said. “But when it’s people wearing it as a costume without knowledge of the culture, we’re just getting made fun of.”