by Kamya Sud
Still trying to scrub the neon paint out of your hair and clothes from Mudd Goes Madd? Pause for a minute, and think about the name of the event, Mudd Goes MADD. Does it offend you? At first glance, do you consider the name to be disrespectful and exclusive toward any on-campus communities? Probably not. But just a few days prior to the actual event, which was held at Harvey Mudd’s North Dorm, Pomona’s ASPC budget committee decided to deny support, monetary and otherwise, to the party for this very reason.
Occasionally touted as the alternative to the widely-known Foam party thrown last year, Mudd Goes Madd was an open invitation to students across the 5Cs to “join your favorite Madd scientists as we get down and dirty with paint for North’s first 5C party of the year”, as put in the Facebook event description. This, coupled with the event image of a ‘Madd scientist,’ a perturbed-looking man with frizzy white hair mixing chemicals in a laboratory, and the catchy play on words with Mudd and Madd, should lead one to presume that the party would be perfectly acceptable and a fun time for everyone involved. However, Pomona’s student government deemed this theme inconsiderate to the mental health community and their allies, expressing disappointment in the choice of the name for trivializing mental issues and excluding related on-campus alliances from participating in the dialogue surrounding the event.
Despite this being described as the crucial reason, the ASPC was also said to have cut funding to the event on the grounds that safety concerns from previous years that the event had been held were not adequately addressed, particularly in terms of atmosphere, crowd control, and security.
Event organizers, in an attempt to act in accordance with the supposed views of the Pomona student body as represented by the actions of the ASPC, changed the attendance of Mudd Goes Madd to 4C, with Pomona students having to be registered as off-campus guests by helpful Mudders. However, these actions caused a tremendous uproar at Pomona, with students making offensive comments decrying the ASPC for not accurately representing the opinions of the student body. There was even an oppositional GoFundMe page set up, ‘Pomona goes (to) Madd’ to privately raise funds for a directed donation to HMC, which, if not accepted, would be donated to a mental health charity.
In response to such criticism, event organizers reopened the party to Pomona students, in an attempt to be inclusive despite the denial of funding, which the ASPC continues to stand behind. More archaically used to describe someone with a severe mental illness, ‘mad’ is also used to describe a very angry person. But more colloquially, it is simply used to describe something that is wildly exciting or enjoyable. In a more colloquial context, Mudd Goes Madd isn’t particularly problematic and fits well with the Harvey Mudd stereotype of highly science-oriented students, with the trope of mad scientist.
From a more superficial angle, students’ criticism of the ASPC’s decision as unnecessarily dramatic and overly PC (politically correct) seems plausible. However, upon further inspection, I can see how this use of ‘mad’ could be considered insensitive to the mental health community. Place yourself in the shoes of a student at the 5Cs severely affected by a mental illness or disability. There’s a good chance they might have been bullied and taunted excessively in their formative years prior to college. It’s also probable that one of the various words used repeatedly to mock their condition which others may not have understood, would have been ‘mad’.
Not only that, but ‘mad’ is also used to refer to cattle and dogs with severe neurodegenerative diseases like mad cow disease and rabies. This dehumanizing word may contain a variety of negative connotations for students with mental health issues. Perhaps, in imagining the plight of such a student, we can empathize and recognize that the term may be a very sore spot for certain students. Seeing ‘mad’ used everywhere from shirts, banners and event descriptions, to from their own friends and peers’ mouths, may make them feel as though their very real and traumatic problems are being trivialized. It is insensitive, because serious illnesses and troubles are being appropriated into a theme, something funny and quirky for more fortunate and unaffected students to enjoy.
While I am all for having a good time and especially all for themed parties, I think it’s important for us to step back for a minute and consider any implications certain theme choices may contain. There might have been hundreds of mental health community members who got splattered with that bright neon paint, but there might also have been that one person sitting in their dorm driven to severe self-esteem issues and perhaps aggravated mental health problems. I believe that we need to stand in solidarity with that one person, and advocate for the community as a whole, even if it means taking away a fun party name and seeming overly upstanding and PC. I mean, if Pitzer isn’t all about social justice and giving a voice to the voiceless, who is?