UDenver polices Halloween with 'We're a Culture, Not a Costume' campaign

The "We're a Culture, Not a Costume" campaign originated in 2011 at an Ohio University Club called “Students Teaching About Racism in Society.”

The University of Denver College Republicans president agrees with the initiative, but not everyone does.

The University of Denver (UD), along with other schools, is once again hosting the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign, which is aimed at decreasing cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes.

The UD Housing and Residential Education (HRE) department is promoting the campaign, which aims to address “the problematic practice of cultural appropriation surrounding Halloween costumes, practices, and celebrations.”

“Because HRE is committed to pursuing inclusive excellence and social justice through programming and dialogue, our department created the ‘We’re a Culture Not a Costume’ campaign in an effort to raise awareness about cultural appropriation during the Halloween season,” the website reads. “We know cultural appropriation occurs throughout the year and is embedded within our society; but by raising awareness now, it is our hope the community can use the tools and dialogue provided to better create a respectful and inclusive campus for all.”

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Gonzaga panelist tackles SUICIDE at cultural appropriation event]

The HRE launched the campaign at DU in 2015, however, it originated in 2011 at an Ohio University Club called “Students Teaching About Racism in Society” (STARS). The group created posters in an effort to “combat racial and ethnic stereotypes commonly depicted in Halloween costumes,” according to DU’s history of the campaign.

Since 2016, HRE has undergone a few changes, the most notable of which is that staff now go through training that “explains and deconstructs cultural appropriation,” while resident advisors go through training that “explains cultural appropriation” and the steps they can take to facilitate “dialogue with residents.”

Rachel Wagner, the president of the College Republicans at DU, told Campus Reform that she agrees with the initiative.

“I think there are plenty of costumes to choose from without using someone else’s culture as a costume,” Wagner said. “It’s disrespectful and usually involves a mockery, simplification, or stereotype of the culture in question. I think the university is handling this issue well because they are doing so in a non-shame-based and non-in-your-face way.” 

[RELATED: Students earned $11/hr to complain about Halloween costumes]

A DU spokesman did not elaborate on the initiative, but told Campus Reform that issues surrounding cultural appropriation will be discussed at the HRE “Halloween Town Carnival” event.

Other educational institutions, such as the University of Connecticut, Gonzaga University, Dickinson College, and Colgate University, to name a few, are hosting similar events or initiatives aimed at addressing cultural appropriation.

At Gonzaga University, specifically, one student explained to Campus Reform why the effort there is “unnecessary.” 

“This email is sent out every year and it is unnecessary and shows that Gonzaga wants to create problems out of nothing,” Gonzaga University senior Megan Lavagnino said, referring to a campus-wide email warning students of “potentially harmful” cultural appropriation.

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