Ghouls are OK. Geishas are not.
Seeking to keep Halloween politically correct, two universities have come out with guidelines for students on acceptable and unacceptable costumes for campus trick-or-treating.
Officials at the University of Minnesota have cautioned students to respect other cultures when selecting their Halloween costumes. In an email to students this month, the university reminded students that “certain Halloween costumes inappropriately perpetuate racial, cultural, and gender stereotypes.”
“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,” the letter said.
Danita Brown Young, dean of students, told The Associated Press that she has heard complaints from students about costumes that stereotype American Indians and blacks, although they weren’t necessarily on campus.
The letter also reminded students to keep tabs on their social media accounts, warning that posts “have a long-term impact on your reputation.”
Separately, the University of Colorado-Boulder on Wednesday sent a cautionary email to students, alluding to recent incidents involving costumes that “portray particular cultural identities” in a derogatory or unflattering light.
“As a CU Buff, making the choice to dress up as someone from another culture can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other peoples’ culture in the CU community,” wrote Dean of Students Christina Gonzales. “For example, the CU-Boulder community has in the past witnessed and been impacted by people who dressed in costumes that included blackface or sombreros/serapes; people have also chosen costumes that portray particular cultural identities as overly sexualized, such as geishas, ‘squaws,’ or stereotypical, such as cowboys and Indians.”
Although the Minnesota school’s letter does not detail disciplinary action for students who ignore the request, reaction to the university’s stance has been mostly positive, officials said.
“We’ve received several e-mails from students saying thank you for sending this out,” Ms. Brown Young said. “I don’t think it goes overboard.”
Mike Schmit, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities’ undergraduate student body president, said the issue has plagued college campuses for years.
“I think every year there are some students really on all college campuses that wear insensitive costumes,” Mr. Schmit said in an interview with the Star Tribune newspaper. “As a student, I think you’re better off erring on the side of not dressing like something that can be questionable. Cowboys, for instance — totally fine. Indians — not totally fine.”
In an opinion piece for the school newspaper, Minnesota Daily, student Sam Jasenosky acknowledged that the policy could open the school to charges of political correctness but thought the letter was merited.
“I believe the University has an obligation to make all students feel safe,” he wrote. “If that obligation requires advising students to become more aware of how their actions can negatively affect others, then it’s necessary.”
In the past year, Greek organizations at several universities have made media headlines for hosting racially insensitive parties.
In December, Hispanic students at Penn State University staged a silent protest after photos emerged of Chi Omega sorority members wearing sombreros as well as holding signs that read “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it” and “Will Mow Lawn for Weed + Beer.” In February, the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Duke University was suspended after hosting an on-campus “racist rager” party. Last month, the Associated Students of the University of California-Berkeley formally condemned the Delta Chi fraternity’s quinceanera-themed party.
In 2011, students at Ohio University launched the “We’re a Culture; Not a Costume” poster campaign, depicting students holding up pictures of racial or cultural costumes that offended them. Since the campaign’s inception, numerous posters have been posted across college campuses nationwide.