Students campaign against culturally offensive costumes

Sarah Doiron

As Halloween night draws near, the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement has launched a campaign against culturally offensive costumes.

Assistant Director for Multicultural Education Sade Jean-Jacques said the department is working with Student Affairs and various student organizations to hang posters around campus reminding students to avoid offensive costumes.

“These types of costumes could be triggers for somebody,” she said. “So if you are wearing this costume and walking by someone, you don’t know what their story is like and their background. You never know who you are going to offend.”

[media-credit name=”Jade Jean-Jacques ” align=”alignright” width=”194″]unnamed-1[/media-credit]Jean-Jacques said examples of culturally offensive costumes are Native American headdresses, blackface and Muslim turbans.

The posters will be based off of a campaign started at Ohio University called, “We’re a Culture, not a Costume.”

The posters from Ohio University featured students of various cultural backgrounds posing with a picture of a stereotypical costume portraying their culture. The posters say “This is not who I am and this is not okay.”

Sophomore Gabbi Riggi thinks it is important for the university to address this on campus. She said people should not be taking stereotypes and turning them into costumes.

“The appropriation of things that are important to people is something many people don’t recognize so to have the univeristy take steps to raise awareness about it is great,” Riggi said.

While there are no serious consequences for offensive costumes on campus, Jean-Jacques believes it is important for students to call each other out and hold them accountable for their costume choices.

“It’s not about the school coming down on the students and ruining Halloween,” she said. “It’s about education on cultural sensitivity and I feel most students have become desensitised to certain aspects of culture and stereotypes.”

Junior Shahara Ingram said she does not think culturally offensive costumes are a problem on college campuses.

“Students are going to do whatever they want to do,” Ingram said. “I don’t think [putting up the posters] will make a difference.”

What is considered an offensive costume varies from person to person, Jean-Jacques said, but anything pertaining to a stereotype is a costume students should avoid.

Jean-Jacques is inspired by the quote from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The single story creates stereotypes. The problem is with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Jean-Jacques wants students to enjoy Halloween while keeping in mind how their costume choices could affect someone personally. She wants students to stray away from using a “single-story stereotype” to describe people.

She believes the best part about this campaign is it is not coming from administration and is instead coming from the students. Jean-Jacques is working with organizations such as the Student Programming Board and the Student Government Association.

“These are students from various organizations who are coming together to send one common message,” she said. “And that message is to not perpetuate these common stereotypes. We really want students to educate their peers about these cultural stereotypes and teach people that this isn’t funny.”

Riggi said students just need to use common sense when picking out their Halloween costumes.

“Use your head and if you think it is offensive just don’t wear it,” she said.

Jean-Jacques believes offensive Halloween costumes have always been an issue in society, but believes that since students are at a higher educational institution they should be appropriate when they dress up for Halloween.

“I understand people’s perspectives are different because of their backgrounds,” she said. “But even if it is not relevant to you it could easily be relevant to somebody else. You view things different from other people…Let’s all have fun on Halloween but let’s be appropriate and respect one another.”