The upcoming weekend of Halloween festivities is bound to stir up a great storm of parties, costumes, and treats.While it is easy to get caught up in the fun of being able to dress up as whatever one desires for this weekend, it is important to recognize the potential consequences of students’ choices for costumes.
The Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Equity Committee and Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Equity Committee have implemented certain regulations regarding Halloween costumes that may be deemed inappropriate at the SSMU 4Floors Halloween Party, and all other McGill-related events.
According to AUS Equity Commissioner, Vareesha Khan, the movement to bring an awareness to the implications of various costumes began around two years ago when SSMU became aware of the potential problems of certain costumes, and decided to take an active stance towards eliminating such controversies.
The instigating event occurred when a student showed up at the 4Floors SSMU Halloween event with a painted black face. This incident brought to light the issue of ethically correct costumes, and propelled the SSMU Equity Committee to implement a rule prohibiting students from wearing costumes deemed racially insensitive. As such, the SSMU Equity Committee encourages party-goers to stray away from ethnical or cultural costumes as a whole.
For the upcoming 4Floors event, the SSMU Equity Committee decided that each costume would receive a colour-code, red or green. The red would mean that the student was not allowed into the building with his or her costume, whereas green would mean the student would be free to enter
“I think the AUS Equity Committee and SSMU Equity Committee are right in implementing such rules,” said Corentin Hinz, U1 Management. “It’s a shame that it’s not already obvious for students […] when they decide on which costumes they want to wear. It shows that our society and our culture still has some way to go before calling itself socially equitable.”
One of the larger problems that the AUS Equity Committee is fighting against is having costumes that sexualize certain cultures.
“If you always see a group of people in a sexualized way, this represents the entire culture as promiscuous, which leads to further stereotypes and makes these individuals seem always eager for sexual encounters,” said Khan. “In the worst case scenarios this can end with rape and non-consensual sexual encounters.”
Students around McGill seem to agree with these arguments.
‘I think it’s a good idea, since people don’t think of consequences when they dress up,” said Estelle Chappert, U3 Management. “Halloween is sexualized enough, without having costumes that solidify stereotypes about other cultures.”
However, the issue of what is and is not appropriate for costumes is still an area of debate among McGill students.
“I find it very difficult to draw the line between what can be judged inappropriate or disrespectful towards other cultures […] during Halloween,” said Yumen Gu, U3 Science. “When students are buying their costumes, I don’t believe they are intentionally trying to offend other students. However, I do agree that within a university with so much diversity among students, it is difficult to ensure that all students are sensitive to what can be seen as fuelling […] new stereotypes.”
The SSMU Equity Committee understands that claiming a costume has negative implications is a delicate affair and that this issue is plagued with grey areas.
“What do you say to a person that is mixed or from a certain culture and is wearing a costume that interprets such a culture?” Khan said. “You can’t tell this person that he can’t wear a costume that represents his own identity. Also, there is an issue with individuals that simply want to give respect to their favourite celebrities and Disney princesses and by doing so, inadvertently pushes a stereotype.”
The SSMU Equity Committee does not want people to completely disengage themselves with learning about other cultures. They encourage students to interact with individuals from diverse cultures and help eliminate stereotypes.
Both the AUS and SSMU Equity Committees are collaborating to educate students on the effects of stereotyping through costumes towards different cultures. In order to spread awareness, the AUS Equity Committee hosted a forum on Oct. 27 to enlighten students on the underlying issues of a seemingly superficial choice of costume.
“Last year, the forum on cultural preparation happened after Halloween, and even though the forum has positive feedback from students, it wasn’t preventive,” Khan said.
The Equity Committee will also display informational posters, creating videos describing real life experiences and detail precise guidelines when selling tickets and giving out entry bracelets for the SSMU 4Floors event.