Dress Up, Don’t Mess Up: Students Weigh In On Cultural Appropriation in Costumes

If you walk into a college Halloween party, chances are you will see a lot of superheroes, Donald Trump costumes and sexy American Indians. While it is doubtful the former two will be offensive, the latter will be.

“Halloween is a nightmare for most Indian people,” said Franci Lynne Taylor, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center. For Taylor, the most offensive are the headdresses people wear as costumes because they have important cultural significance.

Sexualizing American Indian women is another common but highly offensive act. Taylor shook her head and said “poor Pocahontas” after seeing images on the Internet of a typical Halloween costume of a Native American princess.

American Indians are not the only ones targeted. Common cultural costumes also include dressing up as Latinao, Asian and black people. Some believe there are costumes that can be done tastefully, such as Yuvica Camposano, a senior in civil engineering. As a Latin American, she has never personally been offended by people dressing up as Latinos.

“If they dress up and act in their own way, that’s okay,” she said.

Garrett Rozsa, a freshman in music, is dressing up as a famous Mexican female artist this year, something he believes is culturally appropriate.

“I’m dressing up like Frida Kahlo, so it’s a specific person,” he said. “I’m not dressing up as Mexicans in general.”

In his opinion, people should be “sharing their culture in a respectful way,” and some people simply admire other cultures and want to be like them. Yet Taylor said there is no way to appropriately represent some cultures.

“Culture shouldn’t really ever be worn as a costume,” she said.

Taylor also said just because some people from a culture might think it is alright does not mean everyone does.

Beenish Hamid, a junior in civil engineering, said there are some costumes that are a surefire way to offend people.

“I’m Catholic, so I would not like anybody to dress up like Jesus because that is our God,” she said. “I’ve seen people dress up like Jesus and then drink and party and dance, and I don’t like that.”

Taylor’s advice is that if you have to ask if it’s okay, then it probably isn’t. She hopes people can think about how they would feel if they were from the culture they were “representing” before dressing up.

She said: “If you want to be respected, then respect.”

[email protected]

@carolyn_webber