Leaving offensive costumes at the door protects other students, but not explaining why may be a missed opportunity.
This Halloween, Brock University’s student union prepared a list of prohibited costumes for those attending their annual Halloween party.
The list includes culturally appropriative costumes or ones that trivialize sensitive issues and identities. If you show up wearing an Indigenous headdress or dressed as trans activist Caitlyn Jenner, for instance, you’d be kicked out.
A ban makes a statement that student leaders care about those affected by offensive costumes. It’s tiring to expect those whose identities are belittled to constantly explain why wearing a stereotyped version of their identities is wrong. Removing these costumes from the space helps make sure everyone can have fun — not just some at the expense of others.
While a ban may send a strong message, however, it doesn’t solve the whole problem, it only affects one party. We also tend to dislike being told what to do or what to wear. There’s a lesser chance that a ban might even spur resentment rather than thoughtfulness.
Take the Queen’s Native Student Association’s recent photo campaign, for example. Released this past Monday, the series of photographs featured Queen’s students of different identities beside costumes that caricaturize those identities.
The campaign expressed why these costumes are unacceptable. It shows that an educational campaign has the ability to provoke thought and introspection in a way that a list of banned costumes doesn’t.
That being said, while conversations around offensive costumes are crucial, the priority of a ban isn’t to educate — it’s to protect those affected.
To those whose identities are flattened into offensive costumes, Halloween is sometimes a harsh reminder of a culture that manufactures, sells and excuses these costumes in the first place.
For them, a party that leaves those reminders at the door is a welcome relief. It might seem overly paternalistic to ban something outright, but the fact that a party would require such a ban in the first place speaks volumes. A finger-wagging may be what students need to finally learn their lesson.
Halloween is a night of scares, but some costumes aren’t frightening, they’re crossing a line. If we learn the difference, a ban won’t be necessary.
Geishas are out. Feathered headdresses are forbidden. And if you’re planning to wear a Bill Cosby or Caitlyn Jenner costume, you may not be welcome at your Halloween party of choice. A growing number of institutions are starting to take a more proactive approach to potentially offensive outfits by developing strategies and even explicit policies to prevent people from donning controversial getups.
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