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Library association apologizes for ‘cultural appropriation and colonialism’ of Africa-themed conference venue

UPDATED

Employing African tourism students does not ‘match our values’?

The Wisconsin Library Association is hosting its annual conference at Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells this fall, and it’s sorry for not realizing how insensitive that is.

The board of directors issued a statement last month promising to look for a new venue in coming years, owing to the “cultural appropriation and colonialism” embodied by the Kalahari location.

The statement was forwarded to The College Fix by an association member who claimed to receive it only this month. “I have not heard anything more on it,” the member said.

“Many members of the association have raised serious concerns about this venue,” the board statement said, calling Kalahari “inappropriate and inhospitable” for the conference. The resort is “untenable for many members” and attending the conference will be “painful, or maybe even impossible for some,” the board said.

To atone for its logistical sins, the conference committee will focus hard on equity, inclusion and diversity, including a keynote by Ijeoma Oluo, author of “So You Want to Talk About Race.

The WLA will strive to find future venues “that better match our values.” It can’t happen this year, though, because the association would lose at least $27,000 by canceling the reservation, which it booked in 2012.

The Wisconsin resort is part of a chain with resorts in Pennsylvania, Ohio and “soon” Texas. It combines “America’s largest indoor Waterparks with the magic of Africa.”

Its experience is “authentically African“:

You’ll find the spirit of Africa at Kalahari Resorts – from custom-crafted artwork on the convention center walls, furniture placed in guest rooms, recorded music from the streets of Cape Town echoing in the resorts and original crafts for guest souvenirs. It’s all part of Kalahari’s commitment to bring a beyond expectations experience.

Kalahari’s owners, the Nelson Family, have and inherent passion for entrepreneurship. That’s why we joined forces with an African Fair-Trade Organization. This partnership helps us to feature many artists throughout- not only as our decorations within the resort, but also the products guests purchase in our shopping experiences. Everything you see throughout our resorts is either sourced directly from Africa or made in our in-house manufacturing shop.

The owners also participate in a Swaziland organization and hotel-recycling initiative. It employs tourism students from Africa who come to America “to gain practical hospitality experience to take back home to strengthen their tourism industry. While here, they help educate our associates and guest on their cultures.”

WLA Executive Director Plumer Lovelace told The College Fix in an email Thursday that the organization “routinely schedules events 3-5 years in advance,” but the 2019 conference contract was signed in 2012.

Read the statement.

UPDATE: The executive director of the WLA responded to a Fix query after this article was published. The response has been added, as has comment from a WLA member who received the statement.

MORE: Wake Forest napping room has culturally appropriating name

IMAGE: Kalahari Resorts/Vimeo

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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