University students should know better by now
With the Halloween season comes the inevitable debate on offensive Halloween costumes. Parents agonize over whether their child can dress up as Moana, or the Black Panther. But the real issue isn’t children paying homage to their heroes—it’s university students dressing in racist and culturally insensitive costumes with an intent that isn’t exactly wholesome. At this point, you would think university students should understand what makes an offensive costume without needing to be explicitly told.
However, viral photos from a Queen’s university costume party in 2016, where party goers wore tasteless and offensive costumes, suggest otherwise.
Universities, student unions, sororities, and fraternities across the country are now forced to address these dark realities, with the ubiquity of social media found on all campuses. With this in mind, Brock University’s Student Union released a Halloween costume protocol for their Halloween celebrations, and at the University of Waterloo, the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group launched an “I am not your costume” social media campaign to educate students on offensive and inappropriate costumes.
The fact that university students are unable to identify offensive costumes, leading student unions to have to publish guidelines, is frankly, ridiculous. We live in a time where people are becoming aware of their actions and how they reflected on them. And while some may find this age difficult to navigate, choosing a non offensive Halloween costume isn’t actually that hard.
There are obvious taboos, like blackface (although it still seems to not be obvious to some), reinforcing stereotypes, traditional cultural clothing, and religious garments. University students should be able to understand why and how these types of costumes are offensive without needing explicit policies telling them that they are. In grey areas, one should look at the intent of what they’re doing.
People feel like they have to walk the fine line between cultural sensitivity, and freedom of expression. Student unions publishing guidelines in an aim to have some sort of final say isn’t helping the debate, or the students. If students aren’t sure, they can always ask. But rule books, guidelines, protocols, and policies are not the final say—they’re far from it and shouldn’t act as the judge and jury.
We get it, you feel like being “politically correct” inhibits your ability to be racist, or reinforce stereotypes. But if your fun revolves around furthering the marginalization of groups of people, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate more than just your costume.
Correction: A previous version of this article attributed the “I am not your costume” campaign to the Federation of Students at the University of Waterloo. It has since been updated to reflect that the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group launched the campaign.