U. of Utah tackles cultural appropriation and co-optation

  • A diversity coordinator at the University of Utah released a "Costume with Care" news release, in which she discussed both cultural appropriation and "cultural co-optation."
  • She described cultural appropriation, which she argues relates more to use of a different culture without regard to its intent, and "cultural co-optation," which pertains to use of another culture for personal pleasure.

The University of Utah put out a statement aimed at mitigating cultural appropriation and “cultural co-optation” this upcoming Halloween.

The school posted a news release on Monday titled “Costume with Care,” which shared insights from the school’s diversity coordinator in the College of Social Work, Irene Ota. Ota argued that individuals can celebrate Halloween more appropriately by being conscious of the harms caused by costumes that culturally appropriate and culturally co-opt. 

“Does this costume perpetuate stereotypes?” “What’s the historical context of this costume?” “Is this something I would choose on an average day?”   

Ota told Campus Reform that the University of Utah’s Social Work public relations asked her to touch on these issues and that the College of Social Work chose her because of her education in the fields of social justice and diversity.

[RELATED: Augustana College pleads with students to 'pledge' against cultural appropriation]

The diversity coordinator defined cultural appropriation as using something from a culture in a way it was not meant to be used. "Cultural co-optation," she said, is imitating another culture without regard for the context of that culture.

The example of cultural co-optation Ota criticized was dressing like a Native American simply because it “looks cool.”  

The administrator urged people to consider the colonial history around certain costumes, asking, “are you part of the privileged/colonizing group or the colonized/oppressed culture?” She pointed out the “problematic” nature of members of allegedly privileged groups abusing their position of power to use cultural practices that they have, in the past, “attempted to destroy.”

[RELATED: UDenver polices Halloween with 'We're a Culture, Not a Costume' campaign]

When faced with grey areas surrounding cultural appropriation, such as having a friend who isn’t offended by a costume or attempting to celebrate another culture, Ota suggested questions to consider when choosing a costume.

“What is my position of power in this situation?” she suggested. “Am I part of a colonizing or colonized group?” “Does this costume perpetuate stereotypes?” “What’s the historical context of this costume?” “Is this something I would choose on an average day?” 

Ota concluded the statement by reminding students to "check your privilege. And, have fun.”

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Kenneth Nelson

Kenny Nelson is an Intern and Campus Correspondent, and reports on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform. He attends Colorado State University, where he co-founded the Battering Ram, a student-run newspaper.

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