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Colleges to students: Skip sombreros, blackface on Halloween

  • FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2015 file photo, Minnesota fans celebrate Halloween during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Minnesota and Michigan in Minneapolis. Administrators at some universities across the country are increasingly concerned in 2017 that certain costumes are becoming flash points in the campus debate over race and culture. While not outright prohibiting any costume, administrators are using letters, campus forums and advertising campaigns to encourage students to pick outfits that don’t offend their classmates of color. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia, File) Paul Battaglia

  • FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2015 file photo, a Houston fan is dressed for Halloween during an NCAA college football game against the Vanderbilt in Houston. Administrators at some universities across the country are increasingly concerned in 2017 that certain costumes are becoming flash points in the campus debate over race and culture. While not outright prohibiting any costume, administrators are using letters, campus forums and advertising campaigns to encourage students to pick outfits that don’t offend their classmates of color. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File) Pat Sullivan

  • This Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 photo shows a poster displayed on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, N.H., to encourage students avoid Halloween costumes that can be seen as racially or culturally offensive. Administrators at some universities across the country are increasingly concerned that certain costumes are becoming flash points in the campus debate over race and culture. (AP Photo/Michael Casey) Michael Casey

  • FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2015 file photo, Temple fans, some in Halloween costumes, cheer during an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in Philadelphia. Administrators at some universities across the country are increasingly concerned in 2017 that certain costumes are becoming flash points in the campus debate over race and culture. While not outright prohibiting any costume, administrators are using letters, campus forums and advertising campaigns to encourage students to pick outfits that don’t offend their classmates of color. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File) Mel Evans

  • FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2011 file photo, a witch Halloween decoration sits high on a telephone pole at Union Institute & University as students walk past in Montpelier, Vt. Administrators at some universities across the country are increasingly concerned in 2017 that certain costumes are becoming flash points in the campus debate over race and culture. While not outright prohibiting any costume, administrators are using letters, campus forums and advertising campaigns to encourage students to pick outfits that don’t offend their classmates of color. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File) Toby Talbot



Associated Press
Saturday, October 28, 2017

Universities are urging students in search of an attention-grabbing costume this Halloween to pass on sombreros, Native American headdresses and blackface.

Those are some of the costumes grabbing the attention of university administrators who are increasingly concerned that certain costumes are becoming flashpoints in campus debates over race and culture. While not outright prohibiting any costume, administrators are using letters, campus forums and advertising campaigns to encourage students to pick outfits that don’t offend classmates of color.

Some, like the University of Texas at Austin, issued a flyer encouraging students to consider how a costume aligns with an organization’s values and whether it is “reflective of a certain racial group, gender, and/or economic class.” It also includes a list of harmful themes or costumes: any painting or tinting of skin, stereotypes of Asian culture, cowboys and Indians, or south of the border/fiesta. Comic book heroes and time period themes are fine.

Similar campaigns have spread to other schools, including the University of Denver and University of New Hampshire.

Supporters see the campaigns as a chance to start a conversation about cultural appropriation – adopting aspects of someone else’s culture – and to educate students about their own cultures and about why dressing as a Mexican immigrant or Pocahontas might be a problem.

“A lot of people are like I am just wearing a poncho like I’m not trying to appropriate a culture,” said Juan Gomez-Rivadeneira, a 21-year-old member of the University of New Hampshire’s Latino student association Mosaico. He says they have to know why people view it a certain way, even though it wasn’t their original intention.

Critics see the move as another example of political correctness and fear it will lead to a host of costumes being prohibited and turn students off from celebrating Halloween. In 2015, a Yale University faculty member resigned after her calls for students to push boundaries with Halloween costumes sparked protests.

“The cultural temperature on this has gotten so high that nothing is appropriate anymore. We are getting to the point where prohibition is the rule,” said Michael Rectenwald, a professor of Global Liberal Studies at New York University, who has criticized Halloween costume policies.

Inspired by several racial incidents at UNH this year, including white students wearing ponchos and other Mexican attire during Cinco de Mayo, the Student Senate earlier this month passed a resolution calling on the administration to denounce the “insensitivity of acts of cultural appropriation and racism that commonly occur when students celebrate Halloween.” A letter from administrators was sent to students this week encouraging them to be respectful of others’ heritages.

Students at UNH said they’d seen the Halloween posters in their resident halls with the message, “You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life.”

Many said they understood the concerns, and a few said it had them reconsidering costume choices – including a student who was talked out of wearing a Native American chief’s attire. Others said it was unnecessary for the school to suggest what they wear and complained that their decision to wear an ethnic costume was aimed at celebrating a culture, not mocking it.

“I’m kind of 50-50 on it. I feel like it’s dramatic. They are being a little excessive,” said Sarah Smith, a 19-year-old UNH sophomore. “I definitely feel the knowledge is good and that people should respect other people. But I also believe that literally any costume that somebody wears, somebody can find a problem with it.”