University officials are telling their students to be smart – not offensive – as they pick out their Halloween costumes for upcoming festivities.
The University of Minnesota sent an email late last week to students urging them to be respectful when picking out a costume, the Minnesota Daily says. Administrators wrote:
“Please keep in mind that certain Halloween costumes inappropriately perpetuate racial, cultural and gender stereotypes. ... Although it may not be the intent, these costumes, and choosing to wear them, can depict identities in ways that are offensive or hurtful to others.”
The American Indian Student Cultural Center told the newspaper that when people dress as American Indians or Mexicans for Halloween it belittles their cultures and traditions.
U of M officials sent out a similar email last year after students had complained about outfits that had stereotyped American Indians.
It's not just cultural costumes that people are criticizing this year. Many publications, including The Associated Press and Time Magazine have written stories about how this year's costume flap will likely be Ebola – people dressed as Ebola zombies, bloody Ebola patients or even someone donning a hazmat suit.
The website Bustle called going as Ebola "disturbing" and the “most offensive Halloween costume of the season.”
However, not everyone is saying going as Ebola is offensive. Kyle Smith of the New York Post wrote, "When we mock Ebola, we're simply making fun of ourselves. Since everybody dies, when we make fun of Ebola we're just mocking our own fears of death."
This isn't the first year a university or publication has urged people to be respectful during Halloween – and throughout the year.
Some University of North Dakota students have taken a lot of heat lately. A group of UND students were criticized for wearing “Siouxper Drunk” t-shirts, which featured an Indian chief logo, similar to the retired UND Fighting Sioux logo, drinking from a beer bong.
A sorority at the school was also criticized this spring for displaying a banner that was called insensitive to American Indians. In 2008, the same sorority was criticized for holding a “cowboy and Indian” party in which attendees wore headdresses, face paint, and other stereotypical garb.
Last year, a Michigan woman dressed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim got death threats after posting a photo of herself with bloody knees and a runner's bib on social media.
Two students at Northwestern sparked national outrage when they donned black face at a 2009 Halloween party. A Penn State sorority was placed on probation after a Mexican-themed party where students wore ponchos and sombreros. One woman in a photo from the party held a sign that said, “Will mow lawn for weed + beer.”
A group of Ohio University students created a poster campaign in 2011 condemning what they called racist Halloween costumes.
When Syracuse University officials several years ago cautioned students about costumes, First-Amendment advocates scolded them. A campus university newspaper urged students to “Let creativity and intelligent humor be your guide … rather than crass and thoughtless idiocy.”