Students voiced their outrage over social media this weekend about videos featuring Urban Congo, a student organization recognized and sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students.
One of the videos shows a dance performance by members of the organization at the annual Princeton Varsity Club “Tigers Got Talent” talent show in November that was deemed inappropriate by many, citing disrespect for multiple African and Native American cultures.
In response to growing discontent, Urban Congo removed the video from its YouTube channel and deactivated its Facebook page. Michael Hauss ’16, the president of Urban Congo, noted that these decisions were a result of a discussion held among organization members and not from pressure from the University.
Though its membership is mostly comprised of students on the men’s swimming and diving team, Urban Congo is in no way affiliated with or funded by the athletic department, Hauss explained.
The group has also not received funding from ODUS, according to Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne.
Urban Congo was approved by the Student Groups Committee and by the USG senate in May of 2013.
Urban Congo also performed this past weekend as a guest performer for eXpressions Dance Company’s spring production.
Achille Tenkiang ’17 said that Urban Congo’s performances disgusted and disappointed him deeply.
“I’m ashamed that I share an affiliation, however tenuous, with a group like Urban Congo,” Tenkiang said. “I think this just calls for greater discussion on campus. I hope that my peers wake up and realize that things aren’t so pretty inside the FitzRandolph Gate, and there are a lot of things we need to address as a community.”
In response to claims that members of Urban Congo did not have bad intentions, Tenkiang said the impact was more important than the intention.
“You may be the most well-meaning person ever, but how it comes across is a totally different picture, and that’s what you need to be cognizant of as you act and you decide to do certain things,” Tenkiang said.
Lena Sun ’16 said that she had seen Urban Congo perform at the Saturday night eXpressionsshow, in which five male students came onstage wearing loincloths for a filler performance. The students held items above their heads at times and at others placed them on the ground, as though at an altar, she said.
According to Sun, people laughed and cheered at the performance. She said she felt uncomfortable with the performance and was confused as to why others did not seem to feel the same way.
The next morning, students took to social media to express their varying reactions to the performance.
“After realizing the mistake we had made, we fully recognized the offensive nature of the performances and felt it was best to take the video down,” Hauss noted.
Hauss said that he and his organization were being ignorant.
“Though we did not intend to denigrate other cultures, we realize that this fact does not absolve us in the least,” Hauss said. “We created something that was inexcusably offensive, and we appreciate all those who called attention to our mistake.”
Hauss added that he believed the error in his organization’s judgment has sparked a productive dialogue that will help the University community to become more conscientious. He said that after surveying reactions to the video, the organization has decided that it will not continue to function as a performing arts group.
“[Our organization] was founded on inclusivity; if our existence is harmful or offensive to anyone, we have become something that this group never stood for or intended to be,” Hauss said.
Clare Sherlog ’17, president of eXpressions, declined to comment about Urban Congo’s performance this weekend.
After watching the video, Undergraduate Student Government president Ella Cheng ’16 said she would take on an initiative to re-examine Urban Congo’s recognition as a student organization by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students.
“I was equally offended, like the many students who’ve voiced [their concerns] over social media, by the misappropriation of culture in the video. And it was upsetting to learn that [Urban Congo] was an ODUS-approved group,” Cheng said, explaining that she, along with the Student Groups Committee, will be meeting with ODUS in the coming week to discuss the controversy.
Cheng is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.
In addition, Cheng said she will work with the Student Groups Committee chairs to inspect when the group was approved and whether the group description submitted at the time is at all reflective of its recent conduct.
Cheng also noted that she is looking into protocols about revocations for ODUS-recognized student organizations and will bring the matter to the floor at the USG senate meeting next Sunday.
Media relations specialist Min Pullan and University Associate Director of Athletics Kellie Staples did not respond to requests for comment.
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Urban Congo is recognized and sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, but has not received funding from ODUS. Additionally, this article has been updated to clarify that Urban Congo was approved by the Student Groups Committee and by the USG senate in May of 2013.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the USG subcommittee that would meet with the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students to discuss the controversy. It is the Student Groups Committee. The 'Prince' regrets the error.