All-white Den­ver Debu­tante Ball needs di­ver­sity.

The Denver Post - - NEWS | DENVER & THE WEST - By Mad­die Solomon

Iwas home my first Satur­day night of col­lege win­ter break, and my so­cial me­dia feed was over­whelmed with fancy dresses, up­dos and glam­our. Cap­tions like “can’t wait to get mar­ried” were used jok­ingly, al­lud­ing to an era where women were not seen as in­de­pen­dent peo­ple ca­pa­ble of be­ing bread­win­ners or in­tel­lec­tu­als.

Wel­come to the Den­ver Debu­tante Ball, circa 2018: a cul­tural ar­ti­fact rooted in pre-1950s Amer­ica. It’s 2018, and Den­ver is still proudly putting on sev­eral debu­tante balls.

My In­sta­gram was flooded with images of col­lege and high school girls of lit­tle di­ver­sity. Yet Den­ver ranks 84th out of 501 ma­jor cities in terms of cul­tural di­ver­sity. This event lacks rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Den­ver I know, given that about three-quar­ters of Den­ver Pub­lic School stu­dents are of color, and, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau, 49 per­cent of the city’s pop­u­la­tion iden­tify as peo­ple of color.

A night in­tended to make young women feel cel­e­brated, the event up­holds tra­di­tions that his­tor­i­cally pro­moted clas­sism, sex­ism and racism.

A debu­tante is de­fined as a young woman from a pres­ti­gious fam­ily who is pre­sented to high­class so­ci­ety for the first time. Heteronor­ma­tive in na­ture, these debu­tante balls orig­i­nated in Europe in the 19th cen­tury when up­per-class fam­i­lies would of­fer their daugh­ters to bach­e­lors. Still to­day, they are lav­ish af­fairs ex­clu­sive of peo­ple who can­not af­ford it or are not cho­sen due to elit­ist cri­te­ria.

This year’s Den­ver Debu­tante Ball, which was hosted at the Brown Palace, costs each young woman’s fam­ily ap­prox­i­mately $2,500 to par­tic­i­pate, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in The Den­ver Post. That num­ber doesn’t in­clude the dress or par­ties fam­i­lies throw for their daugh­ters. Twenty-eight girls were se­lected as schol­ars in their com­mu­nity, up­hold­ers of lead­er­ship and ser­vice val­ues. A quick glance at the photo of these cho­sen “schol­ars” re­veals, how­ever, a group of white debs with not a sin­gle woman of color rep­re­sented.

I un­der­stand the im­por­tance of tra­di­tion, ca­ma­raderie and men­tor­ship; how­ever, in 2018, isn’t it time for the debu­tante balls to be re­flec­tive of the Den­ver com­mu­nity we live in? By se­lect­ing 28 debu­tantes who are white, it sends the mes­sage that to be rec­og­nized as a scholar, you have to be Cau­casian — and your par­ents also have to be able to af­ford it.

While this event his­tor­i­cally ap­pealed to sex­ist and clas­sist val­ues, that doesn’t mean the Den­ver Debu­tante Ball has to. Times are chang­ing, and the debu­tante balls of­ten raise thou­sands of dol­lars for char­i­ties.

How­ever, these events should at least in­clude schol­ars from all back­grounds to rep­re­sent the city we live in.

With more press­ing is­sues fac­ing Den­ver to­day, such as the ed­u­ca­tion-achieve­ment gap and the gen­der-pay gap, it’s easy to be dis­mis­sive of events for the elite that do not af­fect the city’s pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, it is not the event it­self that is con­cern­ing, but that the women Den­ver puts on pedestals re­flect no di­ver­sity. Thus, we will suf­fer from the false no­tion that one’s abil­ity to lead or be seen for their ac­com­plish­ments is con­tin­gent on their race.

I re­al­ize that any time you upset the cul­tural ap­ple cart, some rot­ten ap­ples will spill out. Cul­tural change does not oc­cur with­out re­sis­tance. It is clear, how­ever, that these an­ti­quated rit­u­als need some pol­ish­ing.

If Den­ver is in­sis­tent on up­hold­ing this tra­di­tion, let’s re­vise the event so that debu­tante schol­ars in­clude the young bril­liant women of color in our com­mu­nity or those from low-in­come house­holds. I was proud to see that the 2018 Jack & Jill Beau­til­lion Ball fi­nally re­ceived cov­er­age re­cently in The Den­ver Post, an event cre­ated to com­bat neg­a­tive stereo­types of AfricanAmer­i­can males in the com­mu­nity by cel­e­brat­ing their suc­cesses.

When I re­turn to the place I’ve called home for 18 years, I don’t want to see schol­ar­ship syn­ony­mous with be­ing white — be­cause it’s not.

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