Universities Warn Students about “Hurtful” Halloween Costumes
October 27, 2013

Universities Warn Students About “Hurtful” Halloween Costumes

Several American universities have issued warned students about what could be considered a “hurtful” Halloween costume – as in costumes that could be politically incorrect or otherwise sensitive.

“If you are planning to celebrate Halloween by dressing up in a costume, consider the impact your costume decision may have on others in the CU community,” warned University of Colorado at Boulder Dean of Students Christian Gonzales as reported by Fox News. “… 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.”

Over at Ohio University (OU), the group Students Teaching About Racism in Society – or STARS – also reportedly launched its third annual campaign against what it considers could be hurtful costumes. These included such caricatures as a student in blackface, another in a sombrero, one as a genie and another as a geisha.

OU even launched a post campaign titled, “We’re a Culture Not a Costume.”

While I can see how the first example of a costume consisting of blackface could be considered in very bad taste to say the least, but is dressing up as a genie really a problem? A genie, as in a mythical character?

Perhaps it does cross the line, but I noted that the OSU campaign doesn’t have 1930s gangsters – which could be something offensive especially to Americans of Italian descent. Maybe there is a line between modern culture and historical but it seems that the campaign is still a bit vague.

Now there are those that would argue that Halloween should be about “scary” costumes such as Dracula and various monsters.

But let’s wait a second.

As someone whose ancestors included those from Romania – Suciu is a Romanian name for the record – maybe Dracula could be considered offensive to me.

Actually it isn’t, and the truth is that I’ve personally said that Romania is the land of vampires and gymnasts. However, my point is that why wouldn’t vampires – or for that matter gymnasts – be culturally sensitive to Romanians, not to mention sensitive to Hungarians and other peoples from the regions? I don’t see vampires on any exclusion list.

There are of course variations on the vampire but the classic vampire has that vague Eastern Europe (but not exactly Romanian) accent. That would seem to me to be as culturally insensitive as anything on the STARS list.

Moving on, Genies are apparently a problem, but what about mummies? I’d think that if genies might be offensive to people in the Middle East than so would mummies be sensitive to Egyptians!

Does the same go for creatures from Greek mythology? Where is the line drawn?

Even dressing as Frankenstein – or rather Frankenstein’s monster – could be one that is offensive to… well, now I’m not sure. Frankenstein sounds like a German name, but actually the character in Mary Shelley’s novel was born in Naples and raised in Geneva. So he’s Swiss? Shelley for the record was English, but spent many summers there with her husband Percy Shelley as well as friends Lord Byron and John William Polidori.

Anyway, the point is that the settings in the novels such as Dracula, Frankenstein and others feature characters that could be considered somewhat offensive. Culturally accurate these books and subsequent films were not.

This debate of course isn’t new and likely isn’t going to go away.

I do think that dressing with a keffiyeh – the traditional Arab headscarf – and wearing a fake bundle of TNT is really in poor taste. It isn’t just disrespectful to people of the region but it is in bad taste to anyone who lived through 9/11 or any other terrorist attack. It is a joke that isn’t really funny, and it isn’t really that clever.

The same goes for “Ghetto” and most costumes that just play off stereotypes. These are just lazy not to mention completely insulting. So think before you dress up.

And perhaps Halloween should be about “scary” costumes – and please don’t get me started on the whole “sexy” or “slutty” line of costumes.

Image Credit: Ohio University

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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