Back home in Florida, I saw my fair share of offensive costumes, like little white girls swathed in Native American headdresses or perfectly able-bodied kids in wheelchairs. But in an effort to combat the offensive and potential risk some people feel when confronted with the reinforced stereotypes that specific Halloween costumes can perpetuate, the University of Florida offers around the clock counseling number. Considering the scares coming from that state, this is an extremely beneficial resource for University of Florida students, an imposition from the administration that doesn’t affect those who remain unoffended and can only help those who are hurt by certain costumes. As Halloweekend draws nearer, Penn’s administration can follow suit with structures such as this one.
UF students tweeted remarks about whether or not they should ask permission from a farmer if they wanted to dress up as a pumpkin. Not only is this unproductive and mocking an uncomfortable experience that many students have had the unfortunate history of living, but it comes from a place of privilege. If you’ve never seen your identity, history, or culture tried on by someone who doesn’t respect its value to you, then of course you’re going to think that person is over-reacting. But just because it doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.
Penn’s administration should take small measures such as those defined above to help create a safe community space, especially considering Penn’s penchant to use any holiday as an excuse to party. Costumes are meant to be fun, and they certainly can be while still maintaining cultural sensitivity.
Though college-aged folks are old enough to be able to consider for themselves what is offensive and what is not offensive, that doesn’t mean we always do. Identity isn’t something people should be able to try on for a day, often mocking the most stereotypical characteristics, because those stereotypes bleed into larger ramifications for the people who can’t simply take their identities off after a fun night of play.
In 2015, Wesleyan University’s Office of Student Affairs posted fliers all around campus with a cultural sensitivity checklist. The flier emphasized the importance of simply asking whether or not your costume is offensive. Many people react to safeguards such as this with sarcasm.
In 2016, the Tufts Daily reported how Tufts’ Greek council circulated a letter warning students against dangerous behavior during the Halloween season, including a caution against insensitive costumes and binge-drinking. This letter was written and circulated by students of their own volition, and wasn’t required by any administration. However, I think this is a great example of something that could be required by campus administrators.
College is a murky place where young adults are learning to set their own values and boundaries without real guidance. Administrators can guide students in a thoughtful direction without restricting our decision-making. I can still choose what I want to dress up as, as long as it’s not culturally insensitive or appropriate. That’s a fair balance to strike.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.