Celebrating Halloween with conscientious costumes

costume-centerpieceAs 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 of individual persons and cultures.

 “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.”

Zachery Cramer, a senior hospitality and tourism management major says, “As a gay man, it really bothers me when people dress up as ‘fairies’ or dress ‘girly’ and say their costume is gay. Gay does not equal feminine.”

NIU students and staff shared their thoughts.

Aziz Akinsola, a senior sociology major, posed “to tackle preconceived notions about different races all over the world.”

Junior physical education major Chelsea Jenkins posed “to show that everyone matters whether it’s their race, gender, sexuality, culture, social status and/or occupation.”

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.”

“We want everyone to enjoy Halloween. We want everyone to be creative and to have fun,” Edghill-Walden said, “but not to have fun at another community’s expense.”

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