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October 25, 2023 - Cultural Appropriation During Halloween

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For those of you who are avid readers of Whitman Today, you may recall that the Division of Diversity and Inclusion has offered guidance and reflection on inclusive approaches to Halloween costuming in both 2021 and 2022. And here we are again in 2023, offering another call for folks to practice community care this spooky season.

Why the repetition? A few reasons—for one, cultural appropriation can be a slippery issue. While some examples may be more obvious, there are other costumes that may feel more complicated for some and may need to be revisited. It’s worth making cultural sensitivity a practice that we continue to reflect on, year after year. 

Also, our community continues to grow and change every year. As new folks arrive to campus, it’s important that we continue conversations that may feel old for others so that we can welcome new folks to join in and learn alongside the more seasoned members of our community. 

And finally, we offer guidance and support on cultural appropriation every year because it is an issue that arises, unfortunately, every year. These incidents take their toll on individuals, campuses and communities, eroding safety and fracturing trust. 

Conversely, respectful celebration and education can build community safety and trust. When we all do our part, we can strengthen our ties to one another and affirm that this campus is a space where we can all safely bring our whole selves. Below, we offer some guidance on costuming up inclusively:

  • Avoid stereotypes
    Steer clear of costumes that perpetuate stereotypes or mock a particular culture or ethnicity. Dressing up as a caricature or using cultural symbols as accessories can be offensive and hurtful. 
  • Respect sacred symbols
    Be mindful of using cultural symbols, religious icons or sacred objects as costume props. These items hold deep meaning within their respective cultures and should be treated as such. However, it is important to recognize that for some individuals, the use of religious icons and sacred objects can signify their participation in the sexualization and objectification of their own body. And while this is in no way the institution telling you what you can or cannot participate in, we encourage the Whitman community to think deeply about their costume and what narrative they are expressing with it. 
  • Educate yourself
    Take the time to learn about the cultural significance behind certain attire or traditions. Understand the history, symbolism and context before incorporating elements into your costume. 
  • Engage in dialogue
    If you have questions or concerns about cultural appropriation, create a space to engage in respectful dialogue with a staff member without participating in cultural taxation. Listen to their perspectives and experiences, and be open to learning and growth. 
  • Be inclusive
    Instead of appropriating someone else’s culture, celebrate diversity and inclusivity by choosing a costume that reflects your own cultural background.
  • Support authentic creations
    If you appreciate elements of a specific culture, donate to artisans and creators from that culture. This helps to promote cultural appreciation rather than appropriation. 

Remember, Halloween is a time for fun and creativity, but it is essential to do so in a way that respects and appreciates all cultures. Let’s celebrate diversity without crossing the line into cultural appropriation. 

If you are unsure if your costume might be offensive, consider going in a different direction. You are also welcome to call one of the units listed below for guidance:

  • DEIA Project Specialist: Quin Nelson, 509-527-4319
  • Division of Diversity and Inclusion: John Johnson, 509-527-4996
  • Dean of Students: Kazi Joshua, 509-527-5158
Published on Oct 25, 2023
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