On the eve of one of the most anticipated weekends at the University of Massachusetts, students are finalizing their plans and special ensembles for the senseless holiday. Amidst these preparations, students are faced with heavy questions that weigh on them more than their midterms: Will they dress up as a Playboy bunny or Rick from “Rick and Morty?” Will their costume top last year’s? And most importantly, will they stand out against the mob of cats, dogs and obscene movie characters?
But what’s left out from the conversation when scheming plans for “Halloweekend” is common sense and sensitivity. While students have limitless options of who or what to dress up as, there should at least be a line drawn when it comes to appropriating a culture. UMass has tightened security and clamped down on residents having guests, but have they done anything to prevent students from violating the myriad of cultures on campus?
First and foremost, one must understand that cultural appropriation on Halloween, perpetrated by college students is, in many cases, derived from ignorance as opposed to malice. Although there are people who deliberately dress up to violate another culture or to be inherently racist—such as when people use makeup to create blackface or students who dress up as Hispanic maids—many people are just searching for an outlet to have fun with their risky costumes. In the process, they can end up violating a culture due to lack of appreciation or just plain ignorance. It’s not a matter of students being oversensitive or overreacting because someone accidentally offended them; these costumes strip different cultures of their validity and lead to decreased respect for minorities.
suEven when playing devil’s advocate, prohibiting culturally appropriative costumes is not a matter of limiting free speech or expression, it is simply being aware and sensitive when it comes to posing and appropriating. No, you shouldn’t dress up as Pocahontas, nor should you wear a sombrero, for reasons that are both easily apparent and seemingly not apparent to some students at all. You have to consider the ramifications of wearing attire that can be questionable to another student because you enter the void of violating a culture on campus.
When you dress up as Pocahontas or wear dreadlocks for the night, you are reducing and invalidating the history that precedes these cultural artifacts. Not only are you violating a culture, but you are also exercising your systemic privilege—and the power that comes with it—as a college student. As Professor Susan Scafidi of Fordham University stated in 2015, “Halloween as a holiday has a history of being focused on inversion of power. It’s about turning the daily world on its head.” But if you’re already in a position of power — even if it’s not by choice and even if you personally haven’t subjugated or marginalized anyone —you’re not inverting that power structure by dressing up as a member of a historically oppressed culture.
The bottom line is that when you make the conscious decision to dress up this weekend, think before you do so. There will never be a clear set of rules that can factor into what is appropriate and what is not. There will be no test or hotline that can reassure you that your costume will not offend or violate someone’s culture. What you can do is exercise a certain level of sensitivity and create a conversation about your costume. Ask your friends, family and even your professors if what you’re wearing is reasonable. Our university is comprised of students of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities, and the least we can do this weekend is treat each other’s cultures with respect and decency.
Morgan Reppert is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]