ALANA Fashion Show sparks controversy

A scene at the ALANA Fashion show Saturday, Sept. 27. The management of the show upset participants.  (Taylor Clock | The Oswegonian)
A scene at the ALANA Fashion show Saturday, Sept. 27. The management of the show upset participants. (Taylor Clock | The Oswegonian)

On stage, everything at the 27th Annual ALANA Fashion Show appeared effortless, on point and on time, but behind the curtains, a mix of chaos and excitement was present, as the models of ALANA Fashion prepared to perform.

Part of the ALANA Student Leadership Conference, the fashion show is often seen as the event’s highlight. To some, however, the conditions in which the fashion show was arranged this year took the students out of the equation.

Created in 1986 by Tyrone Holmes, the former assistant director of Hewitt Union, and Howard Gordon, the executive assistant to Oswego State President Deborah Stanley, ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) week began as the Multicultural Leadership Conference. Today, it continues under the supervision of Maggie Rivera, the student involvement coordinator at The Point and operated as a collaboration of various student
organizations, faculty and staff.

The purpose of ALANA is to bring awareness to underrepresented cultures on campus with a series of educational programs, workshops, speakers and entertainment.

The major student organizations involved are the African Student Organization, the Black Student Union, the Latino Student Union, the Asian Student Association and the Caribbean Student Association. The theme of ALANA week changes each year, and the theme of this year’s conference was “Nature’s Essence.”

Each organization is not only in charge of presenting an educational program of its choice and creating a 10-15 minute scene for the fashion show, but is also assigned a specific duty, such as to clean up after the show or host the banquet.

The fashion show, held in Waterman Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 21, also had participation from the Gospel Choir and Image Step Team. Comedian Talent Harris hosted the show, and Oswego State alumnus DJ Tumbo provided the music.

ALANA organizations view the fashion show as a chance to introduce themselves to new or transfer students, but with the guidelines implemented, some organizations felt that their power was constricted.

A major complaint of the students involved was the ticket price of the event. Regular audience members paid $5 for their ticket and performers and models were also forced to pay for a ticket to their own show.

President of the Latino Student Union Kaylina Rivera found it problematic to require participants to pay for their ticket.

“[Performers] were complaining on why they had to pay because they’re participants and they are putting on the show for the people to enjoy,” Rivera said.

According to Rivera, another concern for LSU was the limit on the number of performers that were allowed in each scene. Each organization was only allowed to have 20 participants.

“LSU is trying to expand and it kind of sucks that we can’t because there is a limit on the first big show that we want to do,” Rivera said. “The fact that we had to do auditions and cut people was hurtful because I feel like they won’t participate in any other events that we may have.”

Director of Marketing for the Black Student Union Ashley Freeze was disappointed by the rule that did not allow performers to wear open-toed shoes.

“The creativity and flexibility was limited this year, “ said Freeze, who has performed with BSU since her freshman year. “Not being able to dance barefoot as a dancer who has been dancing for eight years, that limited my ability to dance as naturally and as good as I wanted to.”

Titled “Death Over Designer,” the BSU section of the fashion show was inspired by Kanye West’s song “New Slaves” and sent a message to African Americans about the dangers of obsessing over designer labels. Models walked out in handcuffs and in chains to represent the mind dominance of trends in the black community. It also featured a modern dance piece.

Rivera also expressed dislike for the closed-toed shoes regulation because it directly affected the theme of the LSU scene.

“It was hard because our theme was underwater,” River said, “so we wanted to give the whole aspect of being underwater and we couldn’t because we had to wear closed-toed shoes.”

Rivera added that there were strict rules about when music and video were to be submitted to the Waterman staff for the show. These deadlines were heavily enforced and Rivera was disappointed when, during LSU’s performance, the video and music suddenly stopped. LSU received warming encouragement and support while on stage and when the video went back up, the performers were able to get back into the show.

“We managed to get it together because I told all of them, don’t move, don’t get off the stage, you all worked really hard to get here,” Rivera said.

According to Maggie Rivera, the guidelines for the show were created for the safety of the students and student organizations. She explained that every year after the ALANA week is over, student committees are formed to help create next year’s ALANA conference. These committees meet often throughout the fall and spring semesters and help decide everything from the rules to hosts.

“We really depend a lot on students that come forward and help with planning,” said Maggie Rivera, who recalled that not a lot of students came forward last year to help with the planning, but that those who did agreed on the rules.

According to Rivera, during these meetings it was decided that all participants would pay the same general price ticket and the amount of participants allowed per group.

Graduate Assistant for Student Involvement Brandon Farmer said that in the past, damages and vandalism done to Waterman Theatre called for more organization.

“There was a lot of chaos that I think a lot of people don’t take into consideration, and that is why I guess the ALANA fashion show has been micromanaged…it’s to protect everyone involved,” Farmer said. “After the vandalism occurred, who got the bill for that? Not the student organizations.”

Regarding the tickets for the fashion show, Farmer said that models need a place to sit in between shows. In the past, there have been complaints from Waterman staff about students standing in the aisles. By ensuring that everyone has a seat, conflict can be avoided.

Rivera explained that, although in the past the fashion show was free to students, the policy changed as the economy and prices have changed. Most students are unaware of the costs of putting on a show and Rivera said that, from renting Waterman Theatre, paying the host, paying for the banquet and keynote speakers, ALANA week becomes expensive.

According to the Student Association’s Director of Finance Hassan Al-Shareffi, ALANA was awarded $19,000. Rivera said that this money was used for the various events throughout the week, such as Collection of Expressions, hosted by the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and which featured a performance by Oveous Maximus, a spoken word artist.

This year, Waterman Theatre’s new facilities manager, Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy, helped Rivera coordinate and organize the entire production. Roy and her team were in charge of all the technical aspects of the production, from lighting to sound. As tensions rose close to show time, some students said they did not enjoy their interaction with Roy.

“Suzayn was very rude. She told one of my constituents, Jasmine Barlow, to get the [expletive] off her stage,” said Freeze, who explained that the interaction occurred after Barlow ate a fruit on stage. “We are not children. We were highly offended by that and so was Jasmine.”

Roy acknowledged the interaction and said that it was unfair to the students.

“I apologized,” Roy said. “I lost my temper. It was completely inappropriate. I’ve already spoken to the ALANA organization regarding it.”

A commotion was also caused after one of the scenes scheduled was cut out the night before the show. Shuave Jackson, who was in charge of coordinating and creating the Greek Unity scene, said that lack of communication between them and the theater supervisors caused their section to be removed from the show.

The Greek Unity scene usually features the multicultural fraternities and sororities on campus in a performance of stepping and strolling.

According to Jackson, Greeks are not part of ALANA but are incorporated into the show because they are multicultural.

“We are not supposed to be on the fashion show, so for Maggie to even give us a scene, that was very kind of her,” Jackson said.

A sister of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Jackson explained that her group was unable to meet a couple of the deadlines for the show, and thus had its spot removed.

According to Jackson, they were unable to meet the deadline for video, but when she tried to contact Roy through email, she did not receive a response. Jackson was eventually able to talk to Roy at a rehearsal in Hewitt Union, where Roy extended the video deadline for their group. Still, Jackson was unable to create the video on time or create a slideshow.

Other issues arose, according to Jackson, the night before the show. Everyone was scheduled to do a run-through of their scene in Waterman Theatre, but the Greek Unity scene was not scheduled to practice. They were able to fix that with Roy and started to go through their performance, but their music was not fully prepared.

“The only thing we had to do was cut the music…it takes 10 seconds to do that,” Jackson said. “So they made it into this big project, that they need lights and everything. And what I’m trying to explain to her, had she came to me in a professional note, in a polite manner, I could have explained to her we didn’t need her system. We would just play our song from [DJ] Tumbo’s equipment cause that’s what we did last year, but she didn’t give me a chance to express that to her. So she came to me while we were practicing and said you’re out.”

Jackson said that she understands that deadlines were not met, but that Roy should not have waited until they were almost done with their rehearsal to tell them that they were cut from the show.

“We were all very upset because we’ve been practicing all week,” Jackson said. She believes that something could have been done to keep their scene.

“I know that a lot of people were very disappointed in not only the fact that we didn’t have a Greek scene, but the fact that the show wasn’t about the students,” Jackson said. “They were so focused on trying to make the show so structured and organized that they forgot the main point was to have fun with it…it wasn’t us. And you could tell, it was evident, that it didn’t come from the students.”

To protect the privacy of the students involved, Rivera would not make specific comments on the Greek scene situation.

“We gave all the organizations some deadlines and some of the deadlines were not met,” Rivera said.

Roy said that the decision to cut the group was made alongside faculty and staff.

“We decided as a whole that it wouldn’t be safe to have them on stage because they weren’t prepared,” Roy said. “We had been specific from the beginning about deadlines.”

Roy added that her concern was with safety.

“If I have a group that isn’t prepared to perform,” Roy said, “I can’t ensure that they are going to be safe.”

In the 2012 fashion show of the previous year, in 2012, the Caribbean Student Association had a similar experience where it was cut from the show due to missed deadlines. But to the current president of CSA, Darlynda Brownlee, the students were responsible for not being a part of the show.

“People did not hand things in on time and they thought they could be a bigger authority and overrule that, and that’s not how it went down,” Brownlee said. “I definitely made sure that everything that needed to be done got done ahead of time actually.”

Brownlee added that her organization had a good experience and relationship with both Roy and Rivera.

Roy said that she understands why some of the regulations did not settle well with students, but that, along with the ALANA staff, they attempted to make the show as safe as possible, including the rule regarding open-toed shoes that upset performers.

“I understand it is a fashion show, but because of the way our stage is set up, it’s not safe to wear open-toed shoes,” said Roy, who clarified that this rule is present for any theatre production.

According to Roy, there is a dance floor that can be placed on the stage for dance performances that allows bare feet, but that comes with an extra fee.

Roy said she enjoyed working with ALANA and that the performance went well.

“I think the groups were fantastic,” Roy said. “I think everyone had a great attitude, I think everything ran smoothly.”

Farmer and Rivera recommend that students with concerns make formal complaints so that any issues can be addressed.

“Nobody has approached me and students do know that we are here,” Rivera said.

Rivera plans to start the student committees for next year’s ALANA toward the end of October. The meetings will be open to anyone and provide students a chance to take leadership in not only the fashion but also workshops and programs.

Both Farmer and Rivera said that, although the fashion show was successful (the theatre holds 500 and the show was sold-out), ALANA week is about a lot more than just the fashion. Throughout the week, numerous events such as the Unity Peace Walk, the Alumni Student Leadership Panel and educational programs such as Definition of Beauty in Asia and Women’s Economic Empowerment: The Rise of Independence took place and were run by students.

“I hope, as an alumni, as someone that participated in ALANA, they need to realize it’s more than just the fashion,” Farmer said. “There’s plenty of workshops and programs that are valuable…yet we are not even supporting it. People really, really need to re-evaluate what ALANA means to them. It’s importance and the fact that, if we don’t take ownership of it and if we don’t nurture it, we might lose it.”