Pick smart costumes, admins say

An email to students reminds them to celebrate Halloween in a respectful manner.

by Haley Hansen

As Halloween approaches, University of Minnesota leaders are asking students to make smart costume choices.

Administrators sent an email to students late last week that addresses offensive costumes that could propel harmful cultural stereotypes.

The email from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Danita Brown Young and Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert reminds students to be thoughtful and respectful when preparing costumes for the holiday.

“Please keep in mind that certain Halloween costumes inappropriately perpetuate racial, cultural and gender stereotypes,” the administrators’ email said. “Although it may not be the intent, these costumes, and choosing to wear them, can depict identities in ways that are offensive or hurtful to others.”

American Indian Student Cultural Center President Chelsea Holmes said Halloween costumes that portray Native Americans and Mexicans belittle the cultures and their traditions.

And while most people see blackface — people painting their face a different color to resemble an ethnicity — as offensive, others may not realize why wearing a Native American headdress is disrespectful, Holmes said. Peoples’ unfamiliarity with other cultures can contribute to the problem, she said.

“I don’t think they recognize that that’s not OK when it’s something that culture really values and is seen as sacred to them,” she said.

Members of the University’s greek community have also addressed the issue.

Interfraternity Council President Cameron Schilling said while the council doesn’t have policies in place regarding respectful costume choices, it pushes members to make good choices.

“We absolutely are communicating to chapter leadership and to all the members that it’s important to remain sensitive,” he said.

Schilling said his own fraternity, Sigma Chi, talks about the issue every year before Halloween weekend.

College students nationwide have raised awareness about inappropriate costumes as the holiday approaches.

Students at Ohio University created the “We’re a Culture, not a Costume” campaign in 2011 in an effort to raise awareness about the negative effects of wearing costumes that reinforce stereotypes.

Other schools have also asked students to be mindful with their costume choices.

The University of Colorado-Boulder sent students an email about the issue last fall, and it plans to send a similar email this fall.

“Making the choice to dress up as someone from another culture, either with the intention of being humorous or without the intention of being disrespectful, can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other peoples’ cultures in the CU community,” the email read.

This is the second year the University has sent students an email reminding them to be respectful with costume choices.

“Halloween is just one occasion on a broad continuum where we all benefit from acting with an understanding of the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and respect,” administrators said in last week’s email.