SLU spells out the do’s and don’ts for Halloween costumes

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Every October students at SLU and across the United States put together costumes both simple and complex for Halloween festivities. Costumes allow students to showcase their creativity and spend a night as someone different from their normal selves.

However, adorning certain costumes can lead to trouble. Students commonly imitate cultural figures and celebrities. When students imitate cultures of which they are not a part of, or celebrities who do not share the same race as, they may unintentionally commit cultural appropriation.

On Oct. 26, the Student Government Organization sent out an email about cultural appropriation and politically correct costumes. The Dean of Students also sent out an email with general recommendations for Halloween activities, which advised against “any culturally insensitive costumes.”

Amanda Pekau wrote SGA’s message about cultural appropriation. She is SLU’s vice president of diversity & inclusion and co-chair of the Diversity Leadership Cabinet. Pekau quoted Susan Scafidi of Fordham University’s Law program, who described cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artifacts from someone’s culture without permission.” Pekau emphasized the harm caused by taking costumes from minority groups that have been “oppressed or exploited.”

She went on to describe the “Dos and Don’ts” when it comes to Halloween costumes. In doing so, she encouraged creativity, research and mindfulness among other imperatives. She dissuaded students from changing one’s skin color, dressing up as other cultures or “characters that trivialize injustices done to minority groups,” wearing sacred artifacts as costume jewelry or anything with offensive phrases or sexualizing minorities.

She concluded her message by acknowledging that some students would dress as they please despite her recommendation while urging students to understand the impact of their actions.

Students at SLU have mixed views of cultural appropriation and political correctness. Dash Chavez, a sophomore, voiced support for the idea of political correctness, but thinks people should not be so easily offended.

“Political correctness as a concept is great. We should be more courteous of each other’s cultures,” Chavez said. “Although it’s good, there is no need to be easily offended. I understand that things such as blackface are extremely inappropriate, but a costume that includes a sombrero should be blacklisted as racist and offensive to the Latino culture, not the Latinx culture — which, as a Hispanic born in a foreign country, I get more offended of someone saying Latinx rather than Latino.”

Emily Johansson, a sophomore, described the importance of political correctness. “Political correctness has become such a contentious term,” she said, “and the way I understand and use the term is that it means actively avoiding saying or acting in ways that insult or marginalize groups that are already discriminated against. That’s not a perfect definition and it’s definitely not how everyone sees it, but it’s empowering. I think language is such an important tool in combating social injustice and having a common working definition of political correctness helps to foster dialogue on these issues.”

Chavez agreed that dialogue is important in discussing cultural appropriation. However, he thinks complaining will put an end to discussion.

“You will not hear me complain about a costume that represents a culture badly, because if it represents a culture badly, then people will be more likely to have an in-depth conversation about why it’s offensive, and people can learn about many cultures rather than just being afraid of dressing up to have some fun in a day that began as a method to stop demons from coming out of hell.”

For Tanner Schubert, a junior, political correctness “stands to bring people together.” He thinks conversation helps “recognize and appreciate cultural differences.” When people appropriate the cultures of others, however, it “takes away from this goal, pushing us in the wrong direction as a society, thinking it is okay to exploit a culture’s differences.”

Audrey Manners and Maddie Zimmerman, who are both seniors, discussed how imitating cultures that one is unfamiliar with is not worth the cost of offending someone.

Manners mentioned that the cost of offending someone was greater than the benefit of wearing a certain costume. “You might hurt someone’s feelings but not get that much out of it,” she said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Zimmerman echoed these remarks. “I’m personally not going to hurt that much if I can’t be a particular person who is a different culture than me.” She went on to say how cultural appropriation mischaracterizes people and their cultures. “[Cultural appropriation] is simplifying someone’s life and someone’s culture, and I think that in and of itself is inappropriate. I wouldn’t want someone to simplify my culture and just put a label on me.

“It’s going to continuously reinforce stereotypes. We’re never going to change or be more understanding of other cultures. Dressing up as a different culture can, yes, not be outwardly hurtful, and maybe someone of that culture isn’t even offended. With that being said, if we’re continuously putting a particular look to people we’re going to continuously reinforce those stereotypes.”