Rethink Halloween: What does your costume really mean?

With just a few days before Halloween, students and the Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted a forum Monday night to set the stage for a discussion about rethinking the fine line between celebration and stereotyping with Halloween costumes.

The discussion began with an introduction to an Honor Council abstract released in 2004, about two students who dressed in black face for Halloween. At one point the confronted party said “he wished that this dialogue had happened earlier, but that there was no attempt made to initiate a personal dialogue or confrontation.”

Students at the Rethink Halloween forum in the MCC.

Students at the Rethink Halloween forum in the MCC.

With this in mind, facilitators Maria Bojorquez-Gomez and Nahara Saballos ‘15 asked students to reconsider what they wear and how they may be reinforcing stereotypes about race, religion and sexuality.

Saballos suggested students consider the potential for cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes, or “when you take something that has a meaning in another culture and try to use it for your own purposes.”

Controversial or offensive Halloween and party costumes are nothing new, especially on college campuses. One website that has gone viral on social media in recent weeks, shouldidressinblackfacethishalloween.com, is just a simple, solid-gray webpage with “No” in large capital letters.

Christian Gonzales, dean of students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, recently urged students in an open letter to be aware of the impact of their costumes. “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 people’s cultures,” Gonzales wrote.

Bojorquez-Gomez, who is also an Ambassador for Multicultural Awareness (AMA), said it often depends on how costumes are presented. One year she decided to wear a traditional Chinese dress for Halloween because she wanted to wear something “outside of her own culture” and wouldn’t have had another occasion to do so, but never intended it as an insult or cultural appropriation.

Facilitators asked if individuals have the responsibility to educate others about why a costume may be offensive to their own race or culture.

Saballo said that rather than placing the responsibility on a single person, who can’t represent an entire culture as a whole, students should be more open to discussing their costumes with others.

“Part of the campaign is to raise awareness so that we can have these conversations. Have people ask, is my costume offensive? If you’re ready to go out in the costume, then be ready to have a conversation,” Saballo said.

One student asked how to go about confronting someone in a potentially offensive costume. “I think it’s asking too much for people to assume that people are going to always be aware that they’re going to offend somebody,” they said.

Facilitators suggested one simple approach: asking, “why did you choose to wear that?”

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