Woodstock Better Than the Kentucky Derby?
In 2015, twenty student protestors hurled accusations of racism at students attending a Dartmouth College sorority party celebrating the Kentucky Derby. After a kerfuffle of hurt feelings and meetings with campus activists, the sorority changed the theme of the 2016 spring party from the horserace to Woodstock, the music festival held in a New York field in August of 1969. Woodstock attracted an estimated crowd of 400,000. It was a notorious three-day sex and drug fest, so ill-planned that it lacked even basic facilities, like toilets.
Dartmouth’s Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority leadership said, “We realized that if anyone on campus felt uncomfortable or upset with the theme, then we obviously shouldn’t have it.” A National Review writer comments:
Wait . . . she sees it as obvious that if even a single person somewhere on campus will be upset about the theme of a party, the whole thing should be changed? Sorry, but that’s not ‘obviously’ the right thing to do — it’s ‘obviously’ ridiculous. (4-8-16)
And what about Dartmouth parents who might prefer the Derby theme of fancy clothes and silly hats? They might feel “uncomfortable or upset” about a Woodstock theme that celebrates rampant drug use and promiscuous sex. Dartmouth parents pay about $50,000 in annual tuition to send a child to the New Hampshire college; add room, board, and fees and the total is almost $70,000 a year.
There’s also the issue of erroneous historical context and factual error. According to a student reporter, the problem the activists have with the Kentucky Derby theme is that it is “overtly racist and recreating an Antebellum South atmosphere on the Ivy League campus.” The party also was described as “related to pre-war southern culture.”
A sorority vice president said that “after speaking to last year’s protesters and other individuals in the Afro-American Society, the sorority decided to change its theme because of its ‘racial connotations.’” (Washington Times, 4-9-16)
A paucity of history classes could be the real culprit. The Kentucky Derby is not antebellum. Even if students aren’t required to take an actual American History course, they could have checked historynet.com on their cellphones to find out that “the Antebellum Period in American history is generally considered to be the period before the Civil War.”
Then they could have used the power of the internet to discover, “The Kentucky Derby is the longest running sporting event in the United States, dating back to 1875.” (KentuckyDerby.com) The Civil War ended in 1865, ten years before the first Kentucky Derby race took place.
Derby party protestors in 2015 used a bullhorn and chanted, “What is Derby? It’s the face of genocide,” and, “What is Derby? It’s the face of police brutality.” These seem to be irrational statements. Not only did protesters get the historical facts wrong, but what possible connection would the Derby or the party-going students have? Note that there are no reports of any activities or attitudes exhibited at the sorority party that could be considered racist. Maybe the real issue is that some activists don’t approve of celebrating events that take place south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Student Assembly president-elect who “is a gay, black student who holds left-of-center positions,” attended the 2015 Derby party, and dared to confront and question protestors. He later apologized. (What would any college-campus event be without the inevitable apology after someone’s feelings got hurt?) A petition was launched to oust president-elect Frank Cunningham; one student said, “Frank’s behavior was incredibly disrespectful and shameful especially considering he is a black man himself and the protesters are protesting for people who look like him.” In his apology, Cunningham said, “As a minority queer student myself, I would never want my actions to make an individual feel silenced on this campus.” (TheCollegeFix.com, 5-8-15)
No one can be silenced on campus, unless it is a conservative voice. Or possibly a southern voice. Then all bets are off and it’s a different horse race.