As Halloween approaches, NIU is joining other universities in reminding students to think carefully about the emotional and hurtful impact of costumes that mock the sexual orientation, gender identity, cultures, ethnicities and races of others.
The “Conscientious Costumes” campaign seeks to keep Halloween a fun and imaginative time for students who plan to share and display their creativity during weekend parties.
What is not considered fun, however, are costumes that reinforce negative and inaccurate stereotypes about any group. Costumes that contribute to ethnic, racial, religious or sexual stereotypes only exacerbate the problem and do not contribute to a genuine understanding or individual persons and cultures.
For example, many Halloween stores this year are selling costumes packaged for couples who would dress as both the 1970s version of Bruce Jenner as well as the Vanity Fair cover photo of Caitlin Jenner. While those outfits might make some laugh, members of the transgender community are unlikely to find their identity as an appropriate basis for a Halloween costume.
“Many people think that it’s really OK to perpetuate or reinforce stereotypes through costumes. Halloween should not be viewed as that vehicle,” said Vernese Edghill-Walden, senior associate vice president for Academic Diversity and chief diversity officer.
“As a university, I believe we have a responsibility to educate and remind the larger community that this is a diverse community. We value what everyone brings to this community, and there’s a certain level of respect that we expect in this community,” she added. “Perpetuating stereotypes, diminishing of culture and false assumptions about people’s identity should not be celebrated during Halloween.”
NIU students and staff are supporting the campaign by posing for photographs with their message written on a dry-erase board.
Aziz Akinsola, a junior sociology/criminology major, posed “to tackle preconceived notions about different races all over the world.”
Physical education major Chelsea Jenkins, also a junior at NIU, posed “to show that everyone matters whether it’s their race, gender, sexuality, culture, social status and/or occupation.”
Sarah Karim, a senior public health major, learned about the campaign from her adviser.
“I really liked the idea of it,” Karim said. “It’s something not a lot of people think about during Halloween and it’s good to try to open their eyes to it.”
To Michelle Pickett, director of the Academic Advising Center, the reason the join the effort is clear: “We must respect and value the unique qualities of everyone’s story.”
The holiday calls for heightened cultural awareness comes during NIU’s “Use Your Voice” campaign, which encourages Huskies to share their stories and come together to creative positive and productive change in their communities and the world.
Students who are participating in the series of programs are learning how to proactively challenge, and strategically respond to, the current social and political climate in ways that protect their safety and rights while achieving their intended outcomes.
Halloween provides an excellent platform to show NIU’s progress toward, and commitment to, the “Use Your Voice” goals, Edghill-Walden said.
“We want everyone to enjoy Halloween. We want everyone to be creative and to have fun,” she said, “but not to have fun at another community’s expense.”