Is My Costume Offensive? Halloween Canceled at Bursley

11260841_1127526097258340_7170362697393861848_nOn college campuses across the country, Halloween has become a month-long celebration of politically correct culture. Our campus is no exception. Posters and bulletin boards adorn dorm hallways and academic buildings encouraging students to reconsider potentially offensive costume choices. Some questions that appeared on a Housing sponsored bulletin board in Bursley Residence Hall include:

  • Is your costume based on a character who is of a specific race, ethnicity or culture?
  • Is your costume based on a specific race, ethnicity or culture?
  • Are you perpetuating stereotypes of a particular race, ethnicity or culture?
  • Is your costume funny or sexy because you are dressing up as someone from a particular race, ethnicity or culture?

Official U of M social media also has its fair share of advice for those planning on dressing up. Expect Respect, an initiative to create inclusive communities, has shared a constant stream of reminders on how to be politically correct on its Facebook page, while the Beyond the Diag webpage features a series of questions that students might use to determine if their costume is acceptable or not.

These posters and social media posts have an admirable goal: to educate students on how cultural appropriation and stereotypes are perpetuated by Halloween costumes. Sophomore Expect Respect Inclusion Ambassador Lillian Gains explains, “Cultural appropriation tends to happen when people lack the understanding or knowledge regarding it and thus don’t know they’re being offensive.”

Robert Rodriguez, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, questions some of these posters. “Is your costume based on a character who is of a specific race, ethnicity or culture? Well, isn’t that pretty much every character?”

Rodriguez also expressed concern that the University may be taking things too far: “I feel like they don’t really have much of a place to even offer advice for stuff like that especially because it’s not their function anyway.”

The university does seek to offer advice on the subject, but students are also encouraged to intervene in situations that they decide are inappropriate.

In the week leading up to Halloween, Common Ground and the IGR Student Engagement Team, both groups sponsored by the university, jointly hosted an event entitled, “It’s Just A Costume, Right?”

One example discussed during that workshop and reported in the Michigan Daily was dressing up as “white trash.” “Some felt that the particular scenario of wearers taping crumpled paper to themselves was acceptable, as it was a clever play on words and not a direct attempt at stereotyping. Others believed that any stereotyped attempt to wear a marginalized group, such as white people of low socioeconomic standing, was dangerous.”

The workshop also included a bystander intervention component, where attendees acted out scenarios of how to educate their peers on Halloween about problematic costume choices.

In addition to educating peers, the university encourages students to report bias incidents to the university:

If you witness or experience conduct that discriminates, stereotypes, excludes, harasses or harms anyone in our community based on their identity (such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion) please report it to the University.”

When the Michigan Review reached out to Expect Respect to schedule an interview about campus culture and Halloween costumes, the office initially responded positively and arranged a time to meet. Later, that offer was rescinded and the Review was informed that interviews could only be granted by University of Michigan Public Affairs.

Erin Dunne may be reached at

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About Erin Dunne

Erin Dunne was executive editor of the Michigan Review.