UF has some advice for students planning their Halloween costumes
GAINESVILLE — For University of Florida students considering their Halloween costumes, the administration has a word of advice.
“If you choose to participate in Halloween activities, we encourage you to think about your choices of costumes and themes,” said a memo sent to students this week. “Some Halloween costumes reinforce stereotypes of particular races, genders, cultures, or religions.”
The university warned that, regardless of a student’s intent, certain costumes fuel offensive stereotypes.
“Bottom line, we aren’t making the call on anything,” UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said. “We are trying to support our students regardless of what their choices are. If students are offended by anything, we certainly want to help support them, but we’re not selecting or calling out any specific costumes.”
This is the second year UF has sent the message, which Sikes said is simply about making a thoughtful choice.
Students who feel troubled can reach out to UF’s “U Matter, We Care” program or a 24/7 counselor in the campus wellness center, the memo said. They can also report incidents of bias to the school’s Bias Education and Response Team, which would contact the student to ask “how are they feeling, do they need counseling, do they want counseling, what is it that they want,” Sikes said.
The team doesn’t investigate or adjudicate any issues, its website says. The idea is to create a culture of support, matching students with helpful resources. The team could potentially follow up with the offending student, but wouldn’t do that in every case.
“It’s really all about awareness that they may have unintentionally offended someone,” Sikes said. Often, “the individual is surprised to learn that someone was offended by their choice.”
The memo also cautioned students about the long-term damage social media posts can cause to one's reputation.
UF students’ questionable costumes have made headlines before.
In 2012, photos from a fraternity’s “rock stars and rappers” party showed Beta Theta Pi members in blackface, wearing gold chains and baggy pants. The fraternity apologized amid widespread outcry. Just the year before, a UF softball player had tweeted party photos featuring students in blackface, dressed as football players. She apologized "if anyone was offended" by the costumes.
At Yale University, officials sent a similar missive warning against “culturally unaware or insensitive choices” in students' costumes. But a debate erupted when a professor's wife sent students her response to Yale's guidance.
“Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?” she wrote to students, sympathizing with the push to avoid offense, but ultimately questioning whether students should allow the administration to dictate norms.
A petition critical of Erika Christakis' email gathered steam, and tensions flared on campus, sometimes devolving into screaming matches. Eventually, Christakis and her husband stepped down from their posts in a residential college.
The Yale flareup, and UF's memo, fit into the broader conversation about free speech on college campuses and the ways colleges deal with issues of bias.