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“Hump day” controversy: a camel shouldn’t spark protest

By , Columnist  |  Tuesday, May 13, 2014 10:01 AM
(Anne Gaslin/TommieMedia)

(Anne Gaslin/TommieMedia)

“Do it for the Instagram.”

For a lot of people, that’s the reason they were excited about the camel coming to campus, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Sure, it sounds a bit douchey to blatantly admit that, but it was in the back of most people’s minds when they saw the Facebook event page.

Let’s be honest. A freaking camel on the plaza? With the quad as a lovely backdrop and a person awkwardly straddling the humps of a massive camel, I can’t think of a more entertaining Instagram opportunity.

The event was meant to be a fun way for the Residence Hall Association to get students involved on campus, even if it was odd. It would have been a hilarious way to relieve some stress during our last week of classes. But the uproar and backlash from some passionate students pushed RHA into its decision to cancel the whole thing.

Why all the drama though? And over this? A camel?

It’s almost comical, really. The upset students who were vocal over the issue on the Facebook event pages made a few somewhat valid points but didn’t quite know the full truth behind their claims.

A waste of funds and resources? Yes, the event might have been an unnecessary use of money, notably during a time when tuition and housing costs are on the rise. But like all other campus organizations, RHA has a budget that needs to be used on student events. Campus organizations like RHA and Undergraduate Student Government normally struggle with a lack of student input about events as well as participation in general. If students want input on where our money is going, we have to be more vocal about it. The money has to go somewhere; it can’t just be reallocated to help tuition or housing costs. That’s not how it works. It has to be spent on events for students by RHA.

The animal rights and animal cruelty argument is a bit off, too. Sure, that’s an important issue that needs attention, and it often is linked with the domestication of animals. But the camel would have been fine on campus. We’re all adults here; it’s not like any students were going to punch it in the hump. Its safety wouldn’t be jeopardized. Even though the protesters succeeded in getting the event canceled, the camel is still going to be used for this exact same kind of event, just elsewhere. So, the people who argued this reasoning didn’t actually have a positive impact on the issue of animal cruelty—they just made some people from RHA feel bad for no reason and spoiled everyone else’s fun.

opinion

Where have these protesters been hiding when other animals have been brought to campus? There have been therapy dogs and bunnies in the library during finals weeks for the past few semesters, and no one has turned that into an issue. RHA also brought a reindeer to campus this past December for students to take pictures with. It’s literally the exact same thing as the camel event but with a different animal. Some argued that the camel caused more of an uproar than the reindeer did because camels are more unfamiliar for students. That’s not a fair argument because who is possibly familiar with a reindeer?

And then the topic of racism started popping up, and it all went downhill from there. How does taking pictures with an animal degrade or simplify students’ views of Middle Eastern culture? It’s a seriously far-fetched claim—one that’s kind of stereotypical, but mostly just senseless.

Yet another argument: bringing the camel to campus would increase St. Thomas’ carbon footprint? Let’s think that one through. We’re not flying the thing in first class from Egypt; it’s already in Minnesota. If driving the camel to campus supposedly increases our carbon footprint, then so do the hundreds of commuter students who drive to and from campus every day. Same with the students using the school shuttles to and from Minneapolis every day. And that’s clearly not the case—there’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I’m all for protecting and helping the environment, but let’s be realistic here: a camel on campus has nothing to do with environmental issues. That claim is a huge stretch. There are so many ways students could actually make a difference in the environment, and protesting a camel event is not one of them.

There were so many people excited for this fun, little event; it’s too bad that a small fraction of students were able to dictate the event being canceled. It’s great that campus organizations take student feedback into consideration for their events, but this is an instance when I think they should have respectfully declined the call to action and continued with the event.

This was an issue that people jumped on through social media outlets. A lot of people hopped on the bandwagon without knowing much about the issue at all or having any legitimate reason to cause a ruckus. RHA was just trying to do something nice for students during a stressful time. The event was a funny pop culture reference to “hump day,” and the whole thing was purely meant for entertainment. I love a good opinionated person, and a little discourse within the student body is great, but some people need to lighten up.

There are bigger issues to worry about … How are we supposed to spend “hump day” now without a live camel on campus?

Anne Gaslin can be reached at gasl8257@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Featured News, Opinions and has 32 comments so far.

32 Comments

  1. Madelyn Larsin
    May. 13, 2014 4:50 PM

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to say what is worth protesting and what isn’t. The people who planned the protest obviously cared about this issue enough to speak out against it. And if they thought it was a worthy cause, then it was a worthy cause. Period. 

  2. Amanda Caruso
    May. 13, 2014 5:02 PM

    The tone of this article really irks me. People who stand up for something they believe in should not be written about like a joke. We are told and taught to stand up for what we believe in and I think it was very “St.Thomas” of us to cancel the event because of a possible protest and disruption on campus. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the reasons for the protest but I do think the fact that people who stood up for something are being ridiculed and treated like some type of joke really says something about who we are as an institution. 

  3. Jack Riester
    May. 13, 2014 6:53 PM

    Thank you for writing this article Anne.  I agree with everything you said, and I think 95% of the student body does too.  I find it concerning that some people feel the need to speak up on every little thing they disagree with.  The world is full of disagreements and if you don’t like something, don’t participate in it, but don’t ruin it for the other people who would have enjoyed taking an epic Instagram with a camel.  Sorry to perhaps cause an uproar on this article now, but it seems it’s hard to avoid uproar nowadays.  The reasons for the cancellation of the camel visit were outrageous and pointless.  Thank you for bringing comedy and sanity to this situation.

  4. Adam Kay
    May. 13, 2014 7:23 PM

    The tone of the article irks me too. The protesters had some strong arguments. Camels and reindeer aren’t like therapy dogs. Camels are beasts of burden – not trained for human companionship (like therapy dogs). The UST community is supposed to focus on empathy – that should extend to animals. On the other side, is the argument for the event really “we at RHA have too much money, we have to spend it on something, and we don’t have any good ideas”? 

  5. Maya Peters
    May. 13, 2014 8:37 PM

    I think the fact that a lot of people were legitimately offended by the event should outweigh some students’ desires to “do it for the Instagram”. I also dislike the tone of this article; it comes off as mocking and belittling of what other students believe in and choose to speak out about.  As a University that aims to be inclusive of all, I don’t think this is the right way to have a conversation about the topic.

  6. Peter Chao
    May. 13, 2014 9:34 PM

    Man, I wanted to pet the Camel. sigh….

  7. Ashley Allan
    May. 13, 2014 10:34 PM

    This article oversimplifies the arguments made by others without any citation of any kind. No quotes from any student who spoke out on these issues, no links to anyone’s writing, no nothing. That means Anne is employing the straw man fallacy, which plays + relies on the ignorance of those hearing the arguments she’s making.

    Also, a reindeer is not analogous to the Western (read: white) construction of an orientalized animal like the camel.

  8. David Trout
    May. 14, 2014 2:13 AM

    Thank you, Anne! I am glad to see that there are others in the St. Thomas community who feel this way. I was very happy to see your thoughtful, well-reasoned approach to this topic. To voice your own opinion clearly and thoughtfully without insulting others is a real gift that is all too often ignored in our culture. Thank you again, and Happy Hump Day!

  9. Laura Blaser
    May. 14, 2014 8:33 AM

    Amanda, I have never agreed with a comment more before, the entire tone of this article is questions the validity of the journalism, I question the use of “douchey” in a media outlet of a catholic institution. I’m not catholic, and I’ve used the word, but never in a professional (or what should be) publication.

  10. Ana Schanzenbach
    May. 14, 2014 8:42 AM

    I agree with Amanda Caruso about the tone. The article came off as juvenile because the author was essentially saying, “Come on, guys! Don’t spoil our fun!” and suggested the protesting students were stupid.
    That said, I completely agree that the protesting students were naive about the actual implications of having a camel on campus. On the Facebook protest page, it was suggested that the camel in question was a victim of animal cruelty. However, the people that were bringing the camel to campus are actually owners of a camel rescue! These events help them pay for all of the pasture, medicine, and other costs of rehabilitating camels and socializing them with the camel herd.
    So bringing the camel to campus would not have been an act of cruelty – it would have been an act of compassion toward the animal and others on the farm it came from.
    The points that the author made about other animals on campus (especially the reindeer) are valid and instantly came to mind when I saw the petition page.
    I also agree that the environmental concerns were a stab in the dark made by people who use the environment as a fall-back argument. I do not say this lightly. My major is Geology and I am socially and academically associated with Green Team, the Environmental Science Department, the Sustainability Garden, and other green initiatives on campus. I fully believe in anthropogenic climate change. That said, the environmental argument, and all of the other concerns, are hogwash.

  11. Dylan Wallace
    May. 14, 2014 11:26 AM

    “if they thought it was a worthy cause, then it was a worthy cause.” This is just wrong.  It basically says that whatever I believe to be right, is right.  So conversely, because I think this protest was not a worth cause, it wasn’t a worthy cause.

    “The protesters had some strong arguments” and “This article oversimplifies the arguments made by others without any citation of any kind” This is actually the exact arguments being made by the “protesters,” they were literally that simple.  Furthermore I think that the arguments against use many more straw men/fallacies than this article does.  Lastly Ana sums it up nicely.  The CO2 impact we have from this event is around .4 kgCO2.  That would account for .00000000655% of the amount of carbon we use every year as a university.  As said on the other article, the opportunity cost of protesting this event limits the ability of activists on campus to have impact at other, more worthy protests. I think it was a selfish, self righteous act by those that inspired this protest. 

  12. Raymond Kindva
    May. 14, 2014 3:50 PM

    Dylan, what are your statements based on? Ever since this issue of the camel started, I have heard a direct statement from the protesters but statements that were made on facebook or wherever. I’m as confused as anybody who was caught up in this camel problem but as far as I know, the only thing I get is that “the RHA organized a fun event and some protesters spoiled the fun.” Everyone is talking about their opinions but no one is trying ask why having a camel on campus is affecting a group of students. Until we reach out to each other in order to understand motives for our actions, issues like this will keep happening and we will keep on pointing fingers at others.

  13. Andrew Pilimai
    May. 14, 2014 7:15 PM

    If a proportion of PAYING students find a use of resources and capital a waste, they have the right to voice that in every sense of the manner. The funding given to clubs cannot be wasted simply by the premise it “has to be used”. There are far more sufficient or beneficial events RHA could fund. St. Thomas, as an institution, should have professionalism at the front of its mind; hiring camels is certainly not the way to go about that. While schools such as Carelton and Macalaster are funding visits from global speakers, we are stuck shoving money towards selfie games and self indulgence.

    Making fun of a camel and using it as the source of a joke can be very insensitive to cultures around the world. Bringing a camel to the school for people to witness an animal not seen locally, however, is great. 

  14. Lauren Johnson
    May. 14, 2014 9:24 PM

    This is beyond accurate. Protest a real issue, not a fun event planned by your peers. And valid reasons always add to an argument FYI for anyone planning a protest in the future. RHA has funds for these types of events and for the people who don’t like the events such as bringing a camel, join RHA so you can have a say on what goes on instead of just complaining. The whole money argument is a joke because per student it would’ve cost less than 40 cents, I could find that on the ground outside right now. This event was going to be a lot of fun and a cool way to get up close with an exotic animal but of course someone has to get their undies in a bundle and ruin the fun for everyone. Good to know my peers are really passionate about keeping ust camel free

  15. Madelyn Larsin
    May. 14, 2014 9:40 PM

    If anyone is still questioning why the event was problematic, I recommend reading a response to this article that my friend wrote on her blog: http://ashemcgee.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/for-us-white-folk-talking-about-orientalism/

  16. Claire Winzenburg
    May. 15, 2014 1:39 AM

    I have yet to read this piece because as someone who was involved in organizing this protest, I feel reading it would probably hurt, however, after reading some comments, I would just like to clarify a few things because there seems to be A LOT of confusion surrounding this:
    1) The protest was organized for a few simple reasons. We believed it be wrong that UST was going to monetarily support a company that exploits animals with no agency, keeping them in an environment that is vastly different than their natural habitat and making a profit off of using animals as props. There is also the INCREDIBLY important issue surrounding the way the this event had been framed. Having a “real” or “exotic” camel come to a predominantly white campus to be gawked at presents a problem. I had an Arab American friend express to me that this event made them feel very uncomfortable, and that is NOT okay with me. I do not wish for anyone to feel uncomfortable or unsafe on campus. Here’s a great piece written by a friend that goes into more detail: http://ashemcgee.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/for-us-white-folk-talking-about-orientalism/

    2) We felt it should be a protest because we don’t believe everything on this campus needs to happen behind closed doors. Students should be able to visibly and vocally express their dissent or discomfort with things that happen or don’t happen here. 3) I didn’t know reindeer came to campus.

  17. Claire Winzenburg
    May. 15, 2014 1:49 AM

    5) I unapologetically love camels and everything else that lives and breaths on this Earth! Creating a hierarchy of issues is dangerous.
    A person can care about and take action on multiple things. I’m not sure why people aren’t taking that into consideration. 6) The author of this piece does not know me or other’s involved with organizing this protest, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell someone what should/shouldn’t be important to them. Creating a hierarchy of issues is a dangerous game. People keep telling me to care about “more important” things, but fail to give suggestions. What are the things you care about? I’m sure they’re important because you care about them! There are a lot of important issues on this campus that need to be addressed. The campus climate for QUILTBAG and queer students on campus is a big issue. The lack of conversation about sexual assault and rape that occurs on campus is a big issue(TM’s piece is a step in the right direction). Free sweatshop t-shirts being given away at events is a big issue. I love UST, and I am grateful for all I the opportunities this place has presented me with. I also know that I’m incredibly privileged to be able to go to school. Because I love UST, I want this to be a better place for all, a safer place for all. Personally, I don’t want to wait until I have my diploma to start “advancing the common good.”

  18. Claire Winzenburg
    May. 15, 2014 1:56 AM

    7) I have nothing but respect for all of the folks in RHA. This protest was always about the event and the institutional support of the event, not the individuals who organized it with good intentions. 8) Despite the hateful messages myself and others have received throughout this whole thing, I have learned that it’s incredibly rewarding to speak out about the things you believe in, so if the author of this piece believes in what they write, I encourage they say it as loudly as they like in whatever tone they wish. 9) Because of the not-so-nice things that have been said, I have also been reminded of the immense value of kindness. We do not need to agree with one another, but let’s always try to be kind. xoxo gossip girl

  19. Claire Winzenburg
    May. 15, 2014 2:21 AM

    Oh, and in response to Dylan Wallace and everyone who is bringing up the CO2 issue, I would just like to say that it was I who made a joke on the original event page about the CO2 emissions, so, I’m sorry if that’s caused confusion over what this protest was about. Also, Dylan, I absolutely disagree that protesting this event will hinder the effectiveness of other forms of activism on campus. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have done it, especially since we are all involved with activists groups on campus like Students for Justice and Peace and FemCom…I explained our motives in the above comments, but if you would like to continue to believe that this was a “selfish, self righteous act,” that’s chill too. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t need you to be on my side, but I would just like to have the chance to represent myself and clarify. (:

  20. Blake Piller
    May. 15, 2014 9:12 AM

    Couldn’t agree more with Anne. I personally found the protest distasteful and frankly embarrassing. People kept saying “its more than just about the camel”…then go do something about these underlying issues instead of trying to cancel a social event. I just don’t see the point of the protest at all, I read Claire’s comments expressing her views and I’m not saying she isn’t entitled but even after her explanation I have a hard time viewing the other side of the spectrum. Petting a camel is in no way degrading to Arab culture, its just not. If I saw a middle Eastern touching a bald eagle would I feel offended? No, I would be jealous they got to touch a cool bird. Blown out of proportion and just overall turning a mountain out a mole hill. Wish RHA would’ve stuck their ground and had the event.

  21. Dylan Wallace
    May. 16, 2014 11:58 AM

    We’re viral now!  And also a mockery…..goals accomplished? 

  22. Emmanuel Goldstein
    May. 16, 2014 7:00 PM

    The original camels evolved here in North America and were only killed off by humans in the last 10,000 years. Camels currently range from Australia to China to Nigeria. The Romans used camels in Germania and the Chinese in Southeast Asia. Camels milk is used in ice cream in the Netherlands and camel meat is sold in Australian supermarkets.

    Despite this the protestors heard “Camel” and immediately thought “Arab”, which to me demonstrates who the real racists actually are.

    Some have tried to justify this overweening callowness by saying “The people who planned the protest obviously cared about this issue enough to speak out against it. And if they thought it was a worthy cause, then it was a worthy cause. Period.”
    Of course the exact same argument could be advanced by Boko Haram, the segregationists in Little Rock in the 60′s, and the SA during the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Such sinister nonsense.

  23. Fred Thomas
    May. 16, 2014 7:54 PM

    If you think bringing a camel to campus is racist because *you* are the one who associates it with Middle Eastern cultures, then you’re only partially correct. Middle Eastern cultures have no exclusive rights to camels and middle class white students have no rights to culturally attribute camels to Middle Eastern cultures.

    If you feel that these animals are being poorly treated, then the burden of proof is on you. If you feel that these animals are being exploited because they’re being taken out of their natural environment, then I’m sure you place a much higher priority on protesting the Middle Eastern cultures which are exploiting them far more cruelly and in far greater numbers.

    If you feel that your money is being misspent, then perhaps you should be protesting the university policy instead of the group which operated well within the guidelines for using university funds.

    If you think your poorly thought out (for reasons I just explained) tantrums are valid just because of your feelings, then your university deserves the intellectual shame you’ve brought upon it by cheapening the concept of “protest”.

  24. John Bruggeman
    May. 17, 2014 6:16 AM

    It’s odd that the last two comments are from the name of a character in the novel 1984 and the name of one of the “geriatric jihadists” who were sentenced to 5 years in prison in a controversial anti-terrorism case.

  25. Joe Johnson
    May. 17, 2014 11:49 AM

    I would just like to say that this protest and decision to cancel the event has brought humility to UST and is now gone viral, as mentioned above. The meer thought of camels and the correlation to the Middle East being racist, is a complete and utter disgrace. The intentions of the camel were for Hump Day, you know the GEICO commercial that EVERYONE knows? Should we take this issue to the CEO of GEICO and say that they are racist for using a camel? They’ll laugh at you and send you on your way. This protest has essentially caused and accomplished one thing, humility to the school.

  26. Dylan Wallace
    May. 18, 2014 1:17 AM

    Also to respond to Claire, it doesn’t seem like you were joking about the carbon in your original group description https://twitter.com/plethoraofryan/status/467443966288211968/photo/1 
    and you actively combated me on it on the group page.  The fact that you are trying to misrepresent this fact makes you seem not genuine with how you are framing this discussion and the key point is that you are the source who claims people were offended.  You lose credibility by back tracking and if you lose your credibility as a source your side also loses some major ground in the impact department.  And a general question did ANYONE actually get offended? Like does anyone else have stories of groups of people or was it potentially just a single isolate incident.  

  27. Terry Langan
    May. 19, 2014 10:29 PM

    Merriam-Webster.com defines humility as “the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble.” This is not a bad quality. I think the previous poster was actually searching for a different word. The same website defines humiliate as “to make (someone) feel very ashamed or foolish”. Humiliation and humility are two very different words and rarely go together. When choosing to criticize others on TommieMedia, and elsewhere, it would be best if we all kept in mind the definition of these two very different words.

  28. Richard Johnson
    May. 20, 2014 3:06 AM

    To those that think a having a camel on campus would be offensive to Middle Eastern students guess where the Middle East gets many of its camels?  AUSTRALIA!  Australia has a huge over population of camels and they export many of them to the Middle East. Can a protester please explain to me why you’re protesting having an animal from Australia on campus? It seems **YOU** are the ones associating camels with Middle Easterners and therefore **YOU** are the racist. Did you also protest the GEICO commercial that used a camel for their “Hump Day” commercial? Protesting this event makes these students look extremely petty and really grasping at straws. My guess is that they are desperate for attention and will stoop to the lowest point to get media attention for themselves. Those engaged in this silly endeavor are going to have a very tough time in the real world. 

  29. Trina Sturlaugson
    May. 21, 2014 10:07 AM

    1. This makes St. Thomas look stupid. We made national news over an event entitled “Hump Day” and a camel. Not for giving back or being academically superior… no, for a camel.

    2. In a professional PUBLISHED article, “douchey”, “literally”, “Let’s be honest, a FREAKING camel?” should not be used. Your point would be taken much more seriously if professional language would be used.

    3. Whether you agree or disagree with the camel situation, everyone is entitled to their opinion and even if it seems silly to someone people to cancel a camel ride, UST does show it takes it’s students concerns seriously, which I think goes beyond this issue.

  30. Thomas Engrav
    May. 21, 2014 10:41 AM

    People are still commenting on this issue?

  31. Dick Houck
    May. 21, 2014 2:18 PM

    With all of the comments on this issue, most of which I presume to be sincere, UST has become the laughing stock of the country with the national media coverage of this event, and rightly so. This is “political correctness” carried to extreme, when there are so many other extremely important issues at stake across the country. At the recent 40 Days for Life protest in front of the St. Paul Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, how many of the camel protestors showed up to protest the killing of over 50 million pre-born babies? Or how many of the camel protestors are concerned about the increasing loss of religious freedom in this country and throughout the world? Are any UST students concerned about the loss of traditional marriage concept in this country (they are on the Notre Dame campus)? I would hope there are many who are concerned with these and other major issues, but to spend valuable time on protesting a camel on campus certainly is a wasted and childish effort.

  32. Max Meehan
    May. 21, 2014 2:24 PM

    Good article, and I agree with everything said here. One key, true premise we need to remember in this unstable time of hurt feelings across our entire nation is that, just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right. This new era of appeasement that has ascended upon us will undoubtedly turn all of us against each other. By appeasing the few at the expense of the many we go against everything our country stands for. Did Washington surrender the free states because a few loyalists were upset? No. Did Abraham Lincoln rethink the Emancipation Proclamation after the minority south objected? No. Did Kennedy think twice about “Ich bin ein Berliner” and if the few Communists in East Berlin would get offended? No.  

    So I leave you with this. I am not upset at those few who protested. I am proud you exercised your rights, those I am sworn by oath to uphold, in defense of what you believe in. Rather, I am disappointed that we, the many, sat idly by and only now show our concern. We have no one to blame but ourselves, lets own up and take responsibility for our failure to act. 

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