HAMDEN — Dressing up for Halloween isn’t only child’s play, and one university wants to make sure that costumes its students choose aren’t going to offend.
Quinnipiac University has borrowed a program from Ohio State University to reinforce the idea that “My Culture is not a Costume.”
“The campaign is sensitizing individuals there are so many good (costumes) you can choose, so you should try to be thoughtful and think about it can really take away someone’s identity,” said Diane M. Ariza, associate vice president for academic affairs and chief diversity officer.
Around the campus are posters featuring students, urging them to think about how a costume can affect others before choosing it, Ariza said. They also emailed all undergraduate and graduate students about the campaign, she said.
“There’s a long list of what we want to see them avoid, but you can’t include everything,” she said. The ones that come to mind because they come up every year are dressing up in blackface or dressing up as a culture, she said.
“There’s a tendency at parties where you have a theme like Native Americans or Mexicans, and so when you start to perpetuate a stereotype, it’s not really supporting the identity of that community,” she said. “That’s when you should ask the question, ‘Should we really be doing this? Is it taking away the respectability?’ In some cases, the pain goes far back, such as blackface — you’re not celebrating, you’re not understanding the historical pain that image creates when you dress up that way.”
Shortly after the fall semester started in September, a student posted a picture on the social media site Snapchat that depicted another student wearing a cosmetic facial mask, with the caption, “Black Lives Matter.” The picture was widely shared and the student who posted it ultimately left the university.
But it’s not only racial issues that can be met with inappropriate costumes, Ariza said.
“Last year when Bruce Jenner came out as a transgender individual, there were many people dressing up as her,” she said. “What statement are you making? Are you reinforcing the idea of transgender or are you taking away the respectability of being transgender?”
Deans at the university have talked about how dressing up as the “promiscuous nurse” can be demeaning to the profession, she said.
There are religious groups that don’t celebrate Halloween because it represents something more negative that is not part of their faith so that sometimes comes up in the conversation.
“There are others who feel that this is being oppressive and forceful,” she said. “We never say in our communication that we prohibit them. It’s about educating individuals about Halloween.”
The campaign includes posters of students urging their peers to be thoughtful in picking out costumes, she said.
“We emailed out not just a message but pictures of students who have volunteered to be part of the campaign,” she said. “We took pictures of them with a statement in front of them saying avoid the stereotype, that your culture is not a costume. “When people are walking around, we want this to be a point of conversation, so they will think, ‘I’ve never thought about that.’ … We are hoping that it will strike some type of conversation and hopefully educate,” she said.
At Ohio State University, a student group called Students Teaching About Racism in Society sponsors the program, and Ariza said their goal at Quinnipiac is to have students there take over its organization, as well.
“We would like students to lead this next year and not administrators,” she said. This year, it was a collaboration between the Office of Student Affairs and the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement. “We would like to see students taking it on as their campaign,” she said.
It’s the fourth year they have run the program, she said.
Last year at Yale University, a request from its Intercultural Affairs Committee urging cultural sensitivity when choosing Halloween costumes led to one professor’s resignation after she told students that they should wear whatever costume they wanted regardless of whether it offends anyone.
The Intercultural Affairs Committee sent out an email days before Halloween urging students not to choose “culturally unaware and insensitive” costumes. Professor Erika Christakis and her husband, Nicholas, headed Silliman College at the university and resigned their positions after Erika Christakis responded by suggesting the university was trying to control its students.
This year, the university’s associate vice president for Student Life and the senior associate dean of Yale College sent out an email to students that, while not directly addressing the issue of offensive costumes, urged students to not only stay safe but be considerate of others this Halloween.
“With fall break here and Halloween just around the corner, we hope you are all planning to take some time to relax and have fun with people you care about. We also hope you that you will stay safe, think about the choices you are making, and be aware of how those choices affect other people,” the email said.
“Yale should always be a community of care and mutual respect, and we invite your active participation in that shared effort,” it said. “If you see someone who needs medical attention, call for help. If you dress up for the holiday, don a costume that respects your classmates. If you engage in sexual behavior, do so with consent and mutual respect.”
Both Southern Connecticut State University spokesman Joe Musante and UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said they weren’t aware of any efforts on their campuses directed at Halloween activity, and an employee at the University of New Haven also said there were no issues with costumes there.
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