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Social Justice Warriors Unite! The University of Texas is the place to be for non-offensive Halloween costumes this year. There’s no need for trigger warnings. No need for apologies. UT has a helpful guide for everyone that will keep the campus conflict free.

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They’ve even asked students not to wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats. The state’s flagship institution of higher education–the pride of Texas–has asked Texans not to wear boots or cowboy hats. Sound absurd? Read the rest of their list:

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A checklist to create better themes and costumes:

Why are we considering this theme? Is there something specifically powerful or engaging about the particular theme? The more “unique” or “exotic” the theme, the more potential for issues of stereotyping, oversimplification, or false
representation. A theme connected to our own communities are more likely to be respectful and fun for everyone (e.g. rather than a “jungle” theme, try a “Texas beach” theme).

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How does this theme align with our organization’s values? Did we pick the theme because it directly represents our organization’s values or mission? Would we feature members in costume on the homepage of our website? Would we be proud to report this social to our national organization or campus advisor?

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Is the theme or costume referring to a living culture or people? If so, there are people who are continuing to live or practice that culture. Anything less than a serious representation of the culture is likely to be harmful. In order to select a respectful theme, it’s important to understand the difference between native peoples and people from a place (e.g. being born in Hawai’i doesn’t make you native Hawaiian).

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Is it about a current subculture? Is the theme or costume likely to be reflective of a certain racial group, gender, and/or economic class? Is it stereotyping, oversexualizing, or sensationalizing women or transgender people, homeless or low-income people, people of color, etc.?

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Have we consulted with “experts?” Is it educational? If a theme regarding a culture persists, have we talked to community leaders or faculty about the theme and event? Have we done research on the culture? Utilizing generic store-bought costumes or
decorations may be a hint that the representation is not authentic. Is our event educational? Could a non-social event, such as service, speaker, or tabling event, be a more effective way to educate?

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Think and talk about our plan. If we’re afraid of someone’s reaction, then we probably shouldn’t do it. Consider consulting our organization’s national office or university staff, in advance. We understand that we are responsible for our theme, our attendees’ participation, and our personal costumes. If we are unconcerned about the potential for negative reactions, and choose not to take these considerations seriously, we are fully prepared to deal with the consequences.

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Harmful Themes or Costumes

“Any time you paint or tint your skin in attempt to appear to be a different skin tone, race, or culture (e.g. Blackface)
Generalized representation/stereotypes of Asian cultures”

  • “Cowboys and Indians”/anything “Squaw” or generalized depiction of an Indigenous person or peoples
  • “Gypsies” or “Geishas”
  • “South of the Border”/”Fiesta”
  • “Hawaiian”/”Tropical”/”Leied”
  • “Ghetto Fabulous”/”Urban”/”G’d Up”
  • “Pimps & Hoes”/”Golf Pros & Tennis Hoes”/Trophy Wives
  • “Trailer Trash”/”White Trash Bash”/”Hobos”
  • “Chicks and Hicks”/”Rednecks”
  • “Around the World”

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Themes To Consider

“Seemingly harmless themes can be carried out incorrectly if you don’t provide information about costuming. Always fully consider your entire social, theme and guest expectations. (e.g. picking a “western/country” theme, but guests arrive as harmful stereotypes of Indigenous peoples.)”

  • Decade/Time Period (90’s, 60’s, early 2000’s)
  • Comic Book Heroes & Villains
  • High School Heroes/Re-live Your Glory Days
  • Sporty & Rep Your Favorite Team
  • Catalina Yacht Mixer or “Preppy”
  • Alphabet Theme (Dress as a certain letter you select)
  • When I Grow Up
  • Rubix cube or Memory Match Game

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The long and exhaustive list of Halloween killjoy makes no mention of pirates. So that’s still an option.

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