Halloween a 'Breeding Ground' for Racism Says MSU, Demands 'Culturally Appropriate' Costumes
Updated: Jan 20
MSU also asks students to avoid 'pandemic victim' costumes
Contributor: Connor O'Neal
Another Halloween, and Michigan State University messaging and boards on campus are guiding students to ‘culturally appropriate’ costumes.
Advising against ‘cultural appropriation,’ Michigan State University blasts Halloween as a “breeding ground for racist, sexist, culturally insensitive and biased behaviors.” Advice for students on boards placed in dorms ask if the costume’s packaging says “traditional,” “ethnic,” or “authentic.”
‘Racial superiority’ through offensive and costumes which 'dehumanize' can help justify violence such as sexual assault and murder,” MSU says.
In a joint email from University of Michigan and MSU leadership, students were warned of offensive costumes and advised to be respectful and safe over the rivalry and Halloween weekend. Not using “foul language,” drinking responsibly, and using “bathrooms not the bushes” were advised.
In the October 28 email, students are told to “choose Halloween costumes that demonstrate respect, avoid appropriating other cultures or promoting racial, cultural, gender, or other stereotypes.” A linked MSU “Costume Selection Matters” article shares that for “many visible and invisible identities, Halloween summons more than ghouls and goblins.”
A ‘breeding ground’ for insensitivity, costumes can “portray specific groups of people in demeaning ways — as criminals, hyper-sexualized and or grotesque caricatures.”
Further, ‘racial superiority’ is often shown through dehumanization, shares Dennis Martell, Director of Health Promotion at MSU. “When we dehumanize others, we position ourselves to justify and accept other forms of violence such as sexual assault and murder.”
“It is crucial to avoid costumes that mock or show insensitivities around traumatic experiences,” shares Dr. Genyne L. Royal, Assistant Dean for Student Success Initiatives. A list of what should be avoided includes:
Body-shaming and objectifying
MSU further tells students to consider four questions when making a costume:
What does my wearing of the costume convey?
Does the costume challenge or misrepresent my value system?
Might this costume perpetuate harm or violence that a group has experienced?
Does this culture reference a certain culture or identity and, if so, is it mine to claim?
Helping students avoid a ‘sticky situation,’ costume guides in dorms first ask students “Is the costume to be funny?” Regardless, students are then posed: “does the costume represent a community or culture that is not your own?” or is it “making fun of...cultural communities?”
Still after four prompts, costumes which do not represent “your own culture” or whose packaging says “traditional,” “ethnic,” “colonial,” “tribal,” or “authentic,” it is not fully “culturally appropriate.”
A “costume that is probably good to wear,” must also not “perpetuate stereotypes, misinformation, or historical and cultural inaccuracies.”
Students witnessing ‘cultural appropriation’ are tasked to use PALS: Pause, Acknowledge, Listen, and “Speak your truth.”
Other flyers around campus posted by the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives are headlined “Culture is not a Costume" and go on to describe cultural appropriation as “the outright co-opting of symbols and rituals by people not brought up in that cultural context.” Examples are a Hawaiian dance skirt, a sombrero, and native American headwear.
Along with this, the four questions from the previously mentioned article are posted on the flyer.
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