The War on Halloween Comes to Campus

A man in a ghost costume, October 29, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
‘It’s a culture, not a costume’ has become a rallying cry at colleges across the country in recent weeks.

Editor’s Note: The following piece was originally published by Acculturated. It is adapted here with permission, and has been amended since its initial publication.

It’s that spooky time of year when ghouls and goblins are getting ready to roam the streets. Unfortunately, they’re not the scariest thing for which you need to be prepared. That’s right, it’s time for Halloween Overcorrection — the time when education officials from kindergarten through graduate school lose their ever-loving minds trying not to offend anyone and to coddle those with half a hurt feeling. I’m here to guide you through the most ridiculous things colleges are doing to prepare for the holiday.

Some schools are keeping it small, such as Northern Arizona University, which has launched a poster campaign called “It’s a Culture, Not a Costume,” or St. Thomas University, which has you covered with this helpful flier. Not enough? They also have this handy little memo with tips like “Many would argue that Halloween is the day of the year where you can be whoever [sic], or whatever you want. However, it’s important to know the distinction between what is funny and what is cultural appropriation.” At Washington State University, the Social Justice Peer Educators Group held an event entitled “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” to teach people that costumes that culturally appropriate are “harmful.”

Most schools are worried these reminders won’t be enough (or won’t make them seem “woke” enough because, let’s face it, this is a whole lot of virtue-signaling), so they’re holding entire events around Halloween instead of just handing out information. University of Southern Indiana is holding an event called “Culture Not Costumes,” which includes both arts-and-crafts time and a test. “Students will then be able to make their own costumes that are culturally appropriate,” the description reads. Students can also “take a quiz to evaluate their understanding of the topic.” Doesn’t that sound like fun? UC Santa Barbara is holding a workshop on cultural appropriation, and Texas isn’t safe from this nonsense either. The University of Utah has a ton of information available to students, including an article, “Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation,” and links to TED talks. Minnesota State is also going all in by holding a panel discussion, “Not Your Festival Wear: Fashion and Cultural Appropriation.” Attendees can look forward to answers to questions such as “How is appropriation fueled by women’s fashions and ‘white feminism’?” Vanderbilt Feminists are holding a similar event “just in time for Halloween!” Princeton is pretentiously calling theirs a Conversation Circle. “Students will engage in a dialogue about the impact of cultural appropriation, Halloween, and why culture is not a costume,” the website says.

Can’t tell if your costume is racist? Need your college to do the thinking for you? UMass Amherst’s Social Diversity Office put together a great little flowchart last year, the Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter (SCREAM, get it?), which helps you determine the “threat level” of your costume. The basic rule is, if you’re going as a person, you should go as a person of your own race. If you’re going as a person of another race, the more makeup you wear, the more offensive it is. A campus magazine at Ohio State University has a similar flow chart this year, with a similar racial element. Again, white people cannot dress up as a person from another race, but non-white people may. The chart also adds a political element. It asks “Is it politically charged?” and, if the answer is yes, the next question is “Does it make fun of Donald Trump?” From there the only option is “yes,” and the result is “DO IT.” We can always count on there being one group of people nobody cares about offending, can’t we? Conservatives. Moving on.

The award for the college that has gone the most overboard (so far) goes to the University of New Hampshire, which held a Teach-In on Cultural Appropriation that encompassed not just Halloween but also Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos (hmm, they seem to have skipped St. Patrick’s Day).

Goucher College came out and said,“The scariest thing about your costume isn’t what you think.” It isn’t what they think, either. It’s the over-the-top way these young adults are being governed by campus administrators so that their feelings aren’t hurt. They would rather be treated like children than be presumed to be adults. They’d rather have their schools behave in a paternalistic way as they rage against the patriarchy than risk a hurt feeling among them. Inevitably, feelings will be hurt anyway because it is impossible for people this fragile not to be hurt in the real world.

Don’t worry, colleges have come up with solutions for that as well, including offering counseling for students who have had their feelings hurt by Halloween costumes. If we are to judge the future by the past, we can assume the most woke of students will also be offended when they have nothing by which to be offended. Why even try to celebrate Halloween, under these circumstances?


    The UN Seeks to Outlaw Cultural Appropriation

    Cultural Appropriation and Sign Language

    How to Solve Cultural Appropriation


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