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Halloween a 'Breeding Ground' for Racism Says MSU, Demands 'Culturally Appropriate' Costumes

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

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.”

[RELATED STORY: ‘Reverse the Privilege’ Table at MSU Gives Free Masks to Minorities, Charges $10 for Whites]

'Don't be the BAD GUY' this Halloween' MSU board in Holmes Hall

‘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:

  • Pandemic victim

  • Black face

  • Holocaust victim

  • Cultural stereotypes

  • Body-shaming and objectifying

  • Islamophobia

  • Transphobia

  • Mental illness

  • Sexual harassment

  • Homelessness

  • National tragedies

MSU further tells students to consider four questions when making a costume:

  1. What does my wearing of the costume convey?

  2. Does the costume challenge or misrepresent my value system?

  3. Might this costume perpetuate harm or violence that a group has experienced?

  4. Does this culture reference a certain culture or identity and, if so, is it mine to claim?

Potentially appropriate costume pictured in MSU article

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.”

[RELATED STORY: (CANCELED) Racially Segregated Group Sessions at MSU Conference Over Pushback]

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.

This year’s push against cultural appropriation by the university is not the first time. In 2018, the university showed sombreros as a racist element.

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