Toxicity Controversy Divides Students Over Non-Issue

Machmud Makhmudov, Columnist

This week, a widely circulated letter titled “A Response to ‘Toxicity’” has raised controversy regarding Solarity’s decision to name its spring event Toxicity. The document cites examples of several manmade disasters that have caused tragedy and suffering for people across the world. It subsequently criticizes the theme of the event, stating, “Glorifying human-made disasters is TOXICITY. Playing dystopian make-believe with people’s lived realities is TOXICITY.” A barrage of internet commentary has arisen, with a number of voices criticizing Solarity’s decision and defense of the naming.

If one were to follow the logic of the arguments against Toxicity’s naming, it would be reasonable to also criticize two of Solarity’s past events, Submerge and

Fracture. Aesthetic considerations aside, simply the names of these two events could easily conjure up connotations that imply insensitivity toward the millions of people who have suffered from either deep-sea or earthquake-related disasters. Of course, it’s difficult to actually conjure up this kind of criticism with any seriousness, especially once we remember that we’re discussing a party being organized on a college campus.

I say this not to dismiss the experiences of those affected by various tragedies, but rather to suggest that taking offense at the name Toxicity requires that one extrapolate any related connotations of the word one step further than is reasonable. We should ask ourselves what intentions are really driving the criticisms surrounding Toxicity, and whether those intentions bring us closer or farther away from something thatwe all want: a more inclusive, collaborative and welcoming campus community. Closely reading “A Response to ‘Toxicity’” helps illuminate these intentions. Unfortunately, the author writes about wanting to “[modify the small fliers advertising Solarity’s next event] with labels so the new version would read ‘White Culture is TOXICITY.’”

Solarity’s event is going to be the culmination of hours of work put forth by dedicated students — those who identify as both white and of color — from every corner of Oberlin’s campus. Dismissing the passion and commitment put forth by those students with a statement like “White culture is TOXICITY” betrays the diversity and individuality of all students on campus. It’s disappointing to see that an organization that is constantly working to improve its outreach and appeal to all parts of campus is being dismissed in such a single-handed way.

A number of events at Oberlin could be perceived as perpetuating either insensitivity toward, or appropriation of, variouscultures on campus. Yet Solarity is perpetually targeted and criticized, and doing so has become a way of being considered popular within some social circles on campus. This trend persists despite the fact that Solarity’s production team has taken massive strides to promote the diversity and inclusivity of their events. Submerge, in particular, took a noticeable step in this direction, abandoning the rave culture image that was a staple of previous events in favor of performances by student groups.

I hope that students come out to support
the tremendous array of student talent that
will be on display on Friday night. Any at-
tempt to protest Toxicity on Friday must be
considered in light of the fact that not only has Solarity made programming and aesthetic changes, it has also issued a full-length
apology on its Facebook page which apolo-
gizes for any offense caused by its event. If
criticisms are made — which, at times, they rightly should be— they should be made in

an even-handed manner with the intent
to promote a greater sense of community
among students, not divide them.