U of M reminds students to stay away from offensive Halloween costumes

Remember when Target sold this "Illegal Alien" costume? The U of M is reminding students to stay away from things like this.
Remember when Target sold this "Illegal Alien" costume? The U of M is reminding students to stay away from things like this.

New Halloween season, new bad choices, and we're not talking too much candy corn (or too much pumpkin beer). Each year, the aftermath of October 31 reveals that somewhere, someone wore a costume that shows people still have a long way to go on the "respecting others, not being racist" front.

The University of Minnesota is trying not to be that place, and getting out ahead of the costume parties. On October 10, the school's Office for Student Affairs sent an e-mail reminding students to "please be thoughtful and respectful when celebrating."

See Also:
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- Another photo of a second St. Paul cop crossdressing as a Muslim woman surfaces

The letter preemptively points out that "certain Halloween costumes inappropriately perpetuate racial, cultural and gender stereotypes," and that even if the intent is lighthearted, the effect can be offensive.

If that's not enough reason to be thoughtful, well, think about yourself, the letter cautions: "As always, keep in mind the potential for social media posts to have a long-term impact on your reputation."

Other universities have sent out this kind of pre-Halloween letter in past seasons, the Star Tribune notes, but it appears to be a first for the U.

While the letter doesn't cite specifics, other campus organizations are. The frat Beta Theta Pi sent an email to its members that included a two-page flier on the acceptable and the... not, the Strib reports. Included in that second category: "blackface" and "men dressing like women."

If this all seems like common sense, remember that last year, a Penn State sorority threw a Mexican-themed party where "Mexican" meant signs like "will mow lawn for weed and beer."

In 2009, Northwestern University landed in the same spotlight after two students showed up to a Halloween party in blackface. Closer to home, earlier this year, a St. Paul cop apologized after Halloween photos surfaced showing him in costume as a Muslim woman.

Here's the full text of the U of M's letter:

Dear Students,

The crisp air and changing leaves tell us that autumn is upon us. And with that comes Halloween and the many ways we observe this festive event. If you choose to participate in Halloween festivities, please be thoughtful and respectful when celebrating.

In particular, 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. Please take care in selecting your Halloween costumes. And, as always, keep in mind the potential for social media posts to have a long-term impact on your reputation.

Halloween is just one occasion on a broad continuum where we all benefit from acting with an understanding of the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and respect. At the U of M, we work to foster an environment that supports these values, and we seek to weave them into the life and work of every member of our community.

We appreciate your commitment to these values in your choices for daily life and as you celebrate Halloween.

Be well and be safe,

Katrice A. Albert, Vice President, Office of Equity and Diversity
Danita M. Brown Young, Vice Provost and Dean of Students

To Katrice Albert, who joined the U this summer as the vice president for equity and diversity, sending out the Halloween reminder aligned with the university's core values.

"I think it was necessary, because we are trying to grow global leaders," she explains. "We want to increase out students' cultural competence."

Albert is quick to say that the letter wasn't prompted by any University of Minnesota behavior, but rather from seeing stories about other schools.

"It's easy to say it's common sense," Albert continues. "But we know from past experiences that at parties that have happened on college campuses, people have made choices that they shouldn't have made. This gives us the opportunity to help our students make better choices from the beginning, before they even go shopping."

In the wake of the letter, her office has gotten feedback both for and against the reminder.

"Several students said they were very grateful a letter came from two new administrators, willing to take the stance to remind students how we take inclusion seriously at the U," Albert says. "Of course, we've also gotten feedback that this is very common sense, 'why waste time' notes. But I think it's been balanced."

Need a non-offensive costume idea? We can help:
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Halloween costume ideas, 2012 edition: Crafty costumes
Halloween costume ideas, 2012 edition: Easy disguises
Halloween costume ideas, 2012: Music icons

-- Reach Olivia LaVecchia at [email protected] or on Twitter at @olavecchia

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