Deep question: Is a Hump Day camel ... racist?

Maybe the headline about Twitter’s hot topic this morning should read Derp question. Yesterday’s update from Campus Reform on outrageous campus outrage hits close to home, both literally and figuratively. Literally, the University of St. Thomas — an outstanding Catholic school — serves the city of St. Paul and hosts the St. Paul Seminary, where I recently completed a terrific two-year course on Catholic theology. Both schools have outstanding faculty and well-earned world-class reputations. Figuratively, I’ve been tweeting “hump day” videos on Wednesdays for months, usually from the familiar Geico commercial or remixes. Here’s my favorite:

Apparently, some killjoys among the Tommies consider this … racist?

Students at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota have cancelled an event to celebrate the end of the year after complaints that bringing a camel on campus could offend those of Middle Eastern cultures.

The “Hump Day” event, put on by the Residence Hall Association (RHA), was supposed to be “a petting zoo type of atmosphere” in which students could hang out and take photos with a live camel. According to Aaron Macke, the group’s advisor, the camel is owned by a local vendor and trained for special events.

But the event was subsequently cancelled after students took to Facebook to proclaim their concerns. The students said they were concerned about the money spent on bringing the camel to campus—around $500—and the implication that it would be racially insensitive to Middle Eastern cultures.

The Star Tribune also reported on the protest, ironically on Wednesday:

The original plan was to bring the camel to the St. Paul campus May 14 and turn the quad into “a petting zoo type of atmosphere,” Macke said. The camel, he noted, is trained for events like these and owned by a local vendor.

In fact, last December St. Thomas brought a reindeer to campus (also hired locally) for the same purpose. No protests ensued.

Macke said he’s not sure who started the Facebook page, but last week it was bristling with indignant comments. Some suggested the event was disparaging to Middle Eastern cultures, an example of animal cruelty and even environmentally unfriendly. “I think they thought the camel was coming from another part of the world,” he said, “[and] it would be bad for our carbon footprint.” Others simply objected to the cost. (Macke said the fee, about $500, was coming from a social event fund.)

This might be a perfect bookend to academic boneheadedness this week, although this one appears limited to a small number of the students rather than the school itself. We started off with Harvard claiming that a satanic black mass had nothing to do with offending Catholics, and now we have a camel from the local area being an affront to those of Middle Eastern descent just by its presence — even though the camel represents nothing more than Wednesdays. The Hump Day Camel meme started with the aforementioned Geico commercial, which also has nothing to do with the Middle East. I doubt that Geico will be pulling the commercial over this.

And why didn’t the Finnish Student Union protest the reindeer?

It would be simply amusing if not for this, emphasis mine:

“RHA’s goal in programming is to bring residents together in a fun and safe environment where all people can enjoy themselves,” RHA president Lindsay Goodwin said in a statement on RHA’s Facebook page. “It appears however, this program is dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment for everyone attending or providing the program. As a result, RHA has decided to cancel the event.”

“A possibly unsafe environment”? That suggests some intimidation went on at St. Thomas, and if so, the school should be looking into it. The organizer later clarified that the issue was resolved amicably, which means that they may need take a couple more communications courses.

Otherwise, this entire exercise is a joke. Camel imagery is used in many different contexts, often including one that should be very familiar to Catholics, nativity scenes. I doubt that anyone of Middle Eastern descent considers that a racist display. Sometimes a camel is … just a camel.

Oh, and … go Tommies.