An Ohio University student organization launched a poster campaign last week to raise awareness around offensive Halloween costumes. The group, Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS), received national attention when they released five posters with students holding photographs of people dressed in culturally-offensive costumes. The tagline of the campaign reads, “We’re a culture, not a costume.”
STARS, founded in 1988 by Dr. Sheila Williams, seeks to educate and facilitate discussions about isms (racism, sexism, classism, etc.). The new posters tackling racism will be distributed throughout the Athens, Ohio campus in order to challenge students to think twice about their costume choices.
Professor Jelani Cobbs of Rutgers University spoke with CNN about his perspective on the importance of spreading this message.
“To treat a character like Batman or Superman as a Halloween costume is one thing, but to treat an entire ethnicity as a costume is something else. It suggests that people conflate the actual broad diversity of a culture with caricatures and characters.”
While Italian-Americans can be stereotyped as gangsters and Irish-Americans as hard drinkers, there are no pervasive stereotypes for whites on the same level that allow for them to be caricatured as a Halloween costume, Cobb said.
“The more we look at people as caricatures, the harder it is to operate as democracy,” he said. “What underlies this kind of costuming is the belief that these people aren’t quite equal to what we are or aren’t as American as we are, or that you as a person who’s not a member of that group should be able to dictate how painful the stereotype should be.” (source)
STARS operates by the African principle “each one, teach one,” and by producing its campaign the group hopes to stop the reinforcement of stereotypes.
During my undergraduate career, I worked for three years as a Resident Advisor in university housing. I saw my fair share of offensive Halloween costumes and costumes for Greek organization themed-gatherings (also known as TGs). These insensitive outfits crossed the barriers of race, religion, class, and sex. Many students were unaware that their choice of dress could offend or hurt someone else, while others didn’t see it as a big deal because they felt it was all in fun.
I think college campuses are the stomping grounds for this debate. Already an educational environment, college campuses allow for students and professors to engage in this discussion process in an open forum. I commend STARS for coming up with a campaign that has sparked the interests of their classmates and people all across the nation. I hope that other student organizations take heed to the campaign, and develop similar movements at their schools.
Please share your thoughts…
What do you think of the STARS campaign? What are some of the offensive costumes that you have seen during Halloween or themed-gatherings? When deciding your costume, do you worry about offending people? What is your Halloween costume going to be this year?