Greek Life Discusses Cultural Appropriation in Halloween Costumes
By Mary Frasier, Director of Photography
On Tuesday, Oct. 26, in CUB 260, the Diversity Peer Educators presented the event “Cultural Appropriation and Offensive Halloween Costumes.” This presentation was supported by the Gettysburg African Student Association, the International Club, and the Muslim Student Association.
The Panhellenic Council began by introducing themselves and giving short descriptions of what their positions and duties are, due to elections being right around the corner. President Emma Stejbach explained that the Council is responsible for policy changes, especially in women’s safety and sexual misconduct. She included that other tasks include working with cultural organizations, the Women’s Center, SASA, and scholarship funds. In addition, Emma stated that her experience on the Panhellenic Council has been very fulfilling experience and encourages people to apply, as applications are now being accepted. Greek Life members concluded their introductions by mentioning Greek Life’s initiative to become more diverse and inclusive on campus, one of the major reasons they support this event.
The student speakers running the event were Mariam Martinez, Melanie Pangol, and Inayah Sherry. They began the lecture by explaining the definition of cultural appropriation, since many people were unaware of the concept. According to the presenters, “cultural appropriation is a term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another.” They continued to explain that cultural appropriation is most often used to describe western appropriations of non-western or non-white forms. It often carries connotations of exploitation and dominance over a minority group or a group seen as “other.” The speakers explained, “a lot of appropriation stems from ignorance and not being educated.”
Following the description, the audience watched a video presented by Buzzfeed that quickly and concisely reiterated the definition of cultural appropriation and gave some examples of this major issue through Halloween costume examples. The video explained that if a person does not do proper research on a culture and dedicate time to dressing traditionally for their culture, they should not be dressing as them. Representing someone’s background and their ancestors’ history without proper knowledge is when cultural appropriation takes place. The speakers asked the audience, “If you don’t know anything about the character you’re dressing as, why would you want to dress as them anyway?” The problematic scenario of who is responsible for this was also discussed at the event. Some argue that the individual student should be held responsible while others believe the college or institution has partial responsibility for what their students wear on Halloween.
After the video, the student presenters played a game of Kahoot with the audience, giving them pictures of Halloween costumes and the audience had to decide if the costume was culturally appropriated. Giving examples of “Black Face” and religious appropriated costumes among others, the students were educated about how to detect cultural appropriation in costumes. The discussion of the room got heated at times, with differences in opinion about the costumes. The speakers calmly explained to audience members who were confused why a culture was being appropriated through the respective costume and how they should avoid costumes as such. While being racist or insensitive is rarely the intent of these costumes, the attack on the cultural still exists. Those who have lived these experiences are offended because people do not understand their culture and have not had to deal with the implications of that culture.
The event concluded with a powerful quote projected that read, “Cultural appropriation, as I understand it, happens when certain aspects of a culture are adopted to one’s convenience without consideration of all the aspects of a culture as a whole. This concern is justified. Those who pick and choose parts of a culture that appeal to them while looking down on other aspects are being insensitive. Still, there are others that value and see beauty in all aspects of the culture.” Greek Life representatives ended the event by wishing everyone a happy and safe Halloween.