Gender and Sexuality Column

Sexualized Halloween costumes can reinforce stereotypes

/ The Daily Orange

Halloween: A time for tricks, treats and cultural appropriation.

While serving up Instagram-worthy looks and enjoying ourselves on Halloween is no crime, doing so at the expense of other cultures and marginalized groups is never OK.

From “adult tribal temptation Native American costume” to sexy Geisha it seems as though nothing is off limits. In response to this, the University of Florida has offered additional counseling outreach for students who may be offended by costumes that push the envelope. UF is encouraging their students to make more informed decisions about their outfit choices and not “reinforce stereotypes of particular races, genders, cultures, or religions.”

As we head into Halloweekend, Syracuse University should take a firm stand as an institution about not tolerating offensive costumes for those who choose to go out. While universities who do confront these costumes have faced heavy criticism for playing into the “PC culture,” these efforts are warranted. Holding students accountable for their choices is simply an attempt to improve the campus climate for all students.

Whether it’s a “sexy” rendition of a native person, a burqa, or an “illegal alien,” some students just don’t know where to draw the line. On websites and in costume stores, there’s a pattern of offensive generalizations about ethnic minorities. Women of color, in particular, tend to be targets of this kind of sexualized stereotyping. But one’s culture is not a costume and it’s important to not treat social backgrounds or religious beliefs as a joke or sexy aesthetic.

The State University of New York at Geneseo has taken the initiative to create a more informed campus by implementing the “Show Your True Face” campaign.

Lenny Sancilio, dean of students at SUNY Geneseo, explained how it began eight years ago to help students tread carefully when it came to picking out their Halloween costumes. Inspired by several neighboring institutions and organizations, the poster series includes helpful tips to ensure students don’t cross the line.

“We wanted to give our students things to think about. It’s never been about ‘what to wear’ or ‘what not to wear,’ but think about these things before you decide, so you know where other people are coming from,” said Sancilio.

In spite of perceived political correctness, Sancilio made it clear that there is a zero tolerance policy for cultural disrespect on Halloween at SUNY Geneseo.

“It’s never our intention to be the PC police,” said Sancilio. “But the ‘I didn’t know’ can no longer be the answer.”

It’s college, and most of the time students will be wearing next-to-nothing anyway when they go out to social events. That part isn’t up for debate. Of course, students should be allowed to wear whatever makes them feel confident, but this becomes problematic when their ensemble sexualizes the culture or beliefs of others.

Granted we may not always understand which costumes are considered offensive, but it’s important that we educate ourselves on these issues. If not, err on the side of caution.

Nix the feathers, head dresses and “sexy kimonos” and throw on a pair of mouse ears in true Karen Smith form. Halloween is a day when we are allowed to be whoever we want to be, but we cannot treat the beliefs and cultures of others as just another game of dress-up.

Ivana Pino is a sophomore political science major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at


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