Costume consciousness inspires discussion

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Back to Article

Costume consciousness inspires discussion

Kaitlin Mikrut

Kaitlin Mikrut

Kaitlin Mikrut

By Kimberly Villanueva, Contributing Writer

Halloween on campus can be a recipe for disaster. Offensive costumes and cultural appropriation are nothing new this time of year, but the age of social media has extended the shelf life of when these photos later resurface online.

Questionable costume decisions made when public figures were young, including current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam have sparked controversy years after they were worn. 

The University has had its own issues with cultural appropriation and offensive costumes. In 2015, members of Alpha Phi sorority and Acacia fraternity were involved in a racist photo taken over spring break. Some students wore TSA agent costumes while another student was in a Mexican sombrero hat. Another student wore a headpiece reminiscent of a Native American headdress. The sorority and fraternity both issued apology statements for the incident. 

The Illinois Student Government has a protocol in place in the event of future incidents such as the one in 2015. Speaker of the Senate Illinois Student Government Alissa Xiao explains a statement for immediate release would be written condemning “anyone who would wear racially insensitive costumes” by a small group of Senate leadership.

Then, if deemed necessary, ISG would write a resolution. A resolution goes through committees and the Senate, encompassing a two-week process. 

In the past, ISG has used its yearly allocated mass emails to the entire student body to educate University students on racially insensitive Halloween costumes. Xiao said these costumes are “far more imminent on campus than they should be.” Xiao attributes this to a lack of knowledge about what makes words, actions or a costume offensive to others. 

“When you come to college, some people find themselves in a bubble where you’re surrounded by like-minded people all of the time,” Xiao said. “Taking the time to educate yourself on what’s outside of that bubble is very important. So if I were to just hang out with people who are not educated about why certain costumes are racially insensitive, I myself would probably not go out of my way to educate myself on that as well.”

Xiao said working with the University to prevent further incidents and providing education and media attention on racial and cultural sensitivity are important steps. 

Basilios Kakates, senior in Engineering and a member of Turning Point U.S.A., at the University, said he feels “an impasse” when it comes to enforcing rules about costumes and themed parties at the University level. 

Kakates said party organizers should enforce their own rules and take action themselves if they feel uncomfortable with an individual’s costume.

However, in the event of a themed party “you have a lot of people showing up doing the same thing. If everyone’s attending that party, then clearly they’re all O.K. with that sort of thing. And who’s the victim in that case?” 

Perusing the costume stores and the Halloween aisles at department stores, you’ll likely find mustache-poncho-sombrero combos, Rastafarian hats with fake dreadlocks emerging from the brims and historical figures such as Pocahontas. 

Miranda Gonzales, junior in LAS, believes what makes a costume offensive is a combination of content and intent. Gonzales said using physical cultural stereotypes and biases for the purpose of “making a joke or to make fun of these groups of people” is what makes a costume racist or offensive. 

Kakates adds he takes into account the history of the costume being donned and whether it has religious significance or has been used historically to mock groups of people, such as blackface.

“Other than that. I just see it as garb,” Kakates said.

Gonzales has seen racially themed parties and costumes but never on campus. While vacationing in Michigan, she witnessed a group of “all-white” party-goers at a “Mexican-themed party” dressed up in “sombreros, ponchos and fake mustaches” while yelling phrases in Spanish. Gonzales said the point of the party did not seem to be to celebrate Mexican culture but rather an excuse to engage in stereotypical facets of that culture. 

“It’s not like you’re trying to represent the culture and be respectful of it, it’s that you’re just having fun with certain parts of it,” Gonzales said.

As Halloween approachers, if grappling over the question of whether or not your costume will offend and hurt others, Gonzales advises others to simply, avoid it altogether.

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