By Peter Fricke, Campus Reform
Valdosta State University has come up with a new category of costume for students to avoid this Halloween, warning against dressing up in “ghetto” and “hillbilly” guises.
Alongside the familiar admonitions against costumes that could in any way be considered racist, sexist, or xenophobic, Valdosta’s Housing and Residence Life department declared in a recent email to the student body—shared with Campus Reform by an exasperated recipient—that they should also avoid “reinforcing classism” with their choice of costume.
“Even if you do not celebrate Halloween, wearing costumes and dressing as someone different than oneself can be fun and playful,” the email begins. “Some costumes, however, can be more harmful than playful, and impact the community in negative ways.”
Costumes that “reinforce negative representations of cultures and groups … take power away from individuals who are a part of those groups by objectifying them, while also not honoring the diversity that exists in their communities,” Residence Life explains.
To assist students in identifying potentially problematic costumes, presumably so they can avoid wearing them, the email offers several examples of outfits that might be considered offensive.
Among the get-ups that Valdosta worries have the potential to reinforce racism, for instance, are “Indian” and “Geisha” costumes, “items that have specific cultural associations and significance (such as bindis and sombreros),” and of course anything involving “blackface, redface, or yellowface.”
Valdosta also wants students to avoid “reinforcing prejudices and fears,” and so cautions them against “wearing costumes that make light of domestic violence, sexual assault, sex work, or matters concerning the LGBTQ community” (out, presumably, would be any outfit advertised as “sexy” or “slutty”).
Finally, the email states that “dressing as ‘ghetto,’ ‘hillbilly,’ associated or similar groups, etc.” is likewise discouraged, because those ensembles might reinforce classism.
The email asserts that costumes such as the ones it lists “remove opportunities to have meaningful conversations about the daily experiences of individuals who identify with those groups.”
One parent, upon receiving a forwarded version of the email, was actually disgusted enough to email the school in response, a copy of which she shared with Campus Reform.
“How in the world will these ‘poor little flowers’ ever be able to function once they get out into the real world?” Tracey Gregory wrote. “Can we please get over ‘being offended’?
“I pay a lot of money for my child to go to VSU and this is ridiculous,” she continued, remarking, “I thought a university was a place for open debate and expression.”
UPDATE: Valdosta State University provided the following statement to Campus Reform regarding the costume guidelines:
“Valdosta State University is a learning environment based on trust and mutual respect, as stressed in our Blazer Creed.
“VSU encourages our Blazers to show courtesy and compassion, as well as respect, for the dignity of every human being.
“VSU encourages our Blazers to be responsible for their own actions, and we stress to them that our community is stronger when we contemplate the context of our decisions and uphold the principles of trust and honesty.
“VSU encourages our Blazers to take an interest in the well-being of the community, to stay informed, to make positive contributions, and to offer support to those who need help.
“The message that Housing and Residence Life delivered to on-campus residents was drafted by a student-run diversity committee in Housing. The message was intended to serve as a reminder that Valdosta State University is a multicultural, diverse community that supports every individual’s right to live and learn without fear of judgment or ridicule based on their sex, race, religion, color, national origin, or disability.
“Valdosta State supports our students in their initiatives to foster and enhance inclusivity for all members of our campus community.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete
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