By now, you may have seen a link circulating across social media and email inboxes highlighting the ad campaign created by a group of students at Ohio University. The posters show students holding a picture of a Halloween costume, either worn commonly at parties or sold in party stores, depicting caricatures of their culture. You can see the full account with pictures of each of the posters here.
I post about it here on the Student Affairs Collaborative because every year, there is always one theme party that makes national headlines (not to count the thousands that don’t) as being derogatory, racist, offensive, and whole list of other words that indicate unsafe environments for students with traditional marginalized identities. When I was an undergraduate student, my University community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was torn apart over a Greek mixer titled “Tacos ‘N Tequila”- I’ll let your imagination do the work here, but suffice it to say that students were not dressed up as food or bottles of alcohol. The experience, which still elicits a physical reaction with me, cast a shadow over my college experience which, for all intents and purposes, was otherwise one of the happiest times of my life. I remember feeling frustrated, alienated, and hurt that people who lived in a place I love and called my home could make me, as a person of color, feel so unwelcome. Last year it was the Compton Cookout hosted by UC San Diego students, but there are plenty more out there that don’t make national headlines.
As student affairs practitioners, I feel that we are the ones responsible for addressing the issues that arise from such incidents. We are the ones that are held accountable for the parties occurring, though they are never officially University sanctioned. They are often a classic example of higher education, and especially student affairs, of being reactive versus proactive. Have you had any proactive conversations on campus about what to do if/when an oppressively-themed party hits your campus? What did you discuss?
As a student, I remember feeling frustrated that the administration didn’t automatically remove these students or ban the particular organizations from campus. Now, with a few more years under my belt, I understand their decisions as a necessary step to protect free speech rights at a public land-grant institution. But it still doesn’t feel good nor does it change the fact that, even though I was not a part of the group directly being stereotyped in the party, I still felt like an outsider in my campus community.
It is wonderful to see students at Ohio U. taking a proactive stand against a very public display of intolerance. I applaud the unsung heroes of the initiative, including the advisors who helped them with the program and funding for the project, the people writing articles about them in major news sources, and all the other supporters of the initiative. I think it is a wonderful example of student empowerment and activism and I hope to see the proactive educational initiatives continue.
How do you feel institutions should respond to theme parties? Can you give where an institution effectively responded to such a situation? What other ways can higher education, or we as individual practitioners, support proactive measures to counter negatively themed parties/costumes?
Viraj S. Patel is a Hall Director at Georgetown University.