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October 26, 2022: Halloween as an Opportunity for Solidarity

From Dr. John Johnson, vice president for diversity and inclusion:

Every year around this time, some campus in the United States explodes into turmoil because a student donned a culturally insensitive Halloween costume. Despite warnings from administrators like me, we continue to see people make offensive costume choices.

Last year LeMoyne and Northern Arizona University gained national exposure related to offensive costumes. We did not see as much of this kind of thing in 2020 since most campuses were remote at that time, but Franklin & Marshall had some problems in this area back in 2019. In a 2018 article in The Atlantic, author Adam Harris references content from 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013 created in response to cultural appropriation/exploitation during the Halloween season in each of those years. The article, "America Can’t Seem to Kick Its Racist Costume Habit," notes that “Colleges warn students every Halloween not to wear inappropriate or offensive costumes, but they struggle to prevent the incidents.”

Last year in Whitman Today, rather than admonitions, we offered some guidance for people to consider when deciding on a costume.

  • Does it mock cultural or religious symbols (e.g. dreadlocks, headdresses, afros, bindis, etc.)?
  • Does it trivialize human suffering or oppression (portraying a houseless person, or depict someone living in a prison or jail)?
  • Does it lean in to stereotypes or attempt to represent an entire culture or ethnicity?

If it does any of these things, it may also contribute to community harm. This year we want to encourage folks to use Halloween as an opportunity for solidarity. Consider how not wearing a particular costume can be an expression of support for marginalized communities. It’s not about keeping Whitman out of the news, but recognizing that minoritized folks won’t be enlisted to serve as volunteer DEIA peer educators if we do. Minoritized community members will not be asked to provide comments to the media regarding how they feel about a blatantly offensive costume one of their peers wore. And folks who already feel like they have to fight for recognition and respect in this community, will not feel othered or have to use a portion of their bandwidth to validate their full humanity.  

More us, more we. 

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 Program Coordinator: Quin Nelson, 509-527-4319
  • Division of Diversity and Inclusion: John Johnson, 509-527-4996
  • Dean of Students: Kazi Joshua, 509-527-5158
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