A Student Affairs Approach to an Inclusive Halloween

As Halloween rapidly approaches, articles, infographics, and Buzzfeed videos keep circulating to spread awareness of how this fun holiday often perpetuates stereotypes and highlights cultural appropriation. Student affairs professionals are looking for resources as this topic continually arises with students and staff.

As institutions of higher education become more diverse, it’s critical to develop students’ awareness, knowledge, and skills to foster inclusive learning environments. Student affairs professionals, student leaders, and staff play a key role in facilitating conversations with students about issues regarding identity, including: race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status and other complex and intersectional social variables.

Both NASPA (The National Association of Student Affairs Administrators) and ACPA (The American College Personnel Association) agree that competencies surrounding Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) are necessary to develop as a professional while working in the student affairs field and infuse into practices when working with students.

With this in mind, we’ve laid out helpful reminders, resources and articles that may help facilitate conversations surrounding Halloween costumes at different levels on your campus.

What is cultural appropriation?

There’s not one definition of cultural appropriation and it’s difficult to give a succinct explanation that’s all encompassing. Susan Scafidi, the author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law defines cultural appropriation as, “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This includes another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, cuisine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways.”

What does this definition look like today? In pop culture?

Amandla Stenberg, also known as ‘Rue’ in the movies The Hunger Games, filmed a video for her history class outlining how black culture has been adopted and how it relates to cultural appropriation:

Why is it such a big deal?

Our society equates whiteness with normalcy and every human outside of this category is often labeled or seen as “the other.” Many marginalized groups of people aren’t represented well or at all in mainstream media and are instead limited to a historically inaccurate or offensive halloween costumes. For others, they aren’t simply costumes, they are a harmful misrepresentation of their everyday lives.

What are other colleges and universities doing to be proactive?

California State University San Marcos published information on their website labeled “Race Themed Parties” that includes issues that came up in 2013. Along with being transparent to their students, they offer questions students should ask themselves when faced with issues of cultural appropriation. They also included a list of resources for students to explore along with workshops offered on campus specifically on cultural appropriation, bias and stereotypes, and inclusive excellence.

Wesleyan University’s administration produced a Halloween Checklist poster titled “Is Your Costume Offensive?” spreading awareness of identities and creating new conversations about hard topics.

What are some ways you can be proactive just few days before Halloween?

  1. Send out an email to your community, post on social media, and/or the institution’s website with articles, videos and information about why choosing a culturally sensitive Halloween costume is important.
  2. Share resources with colleagues and ask to take time out of a staff meeting to start or continue conversations centered around inclusion on campus.
  3. Have conversations with your student leaders about their feelings around halloween costumes and how to create an awareness with other students on campus.
  4. Review any university protocols or student handbook sections that may relate back to diversity and inclusiveness with your leadership team. It’s important to understand that no matter how proactive you are, these parties and costumes will show up, so it’s important to prepare how you will react.

This Halloween, we’re excited about more than just candy. We’re looking forward to continuing this dialogue about cultural appropriation and how our campuses can continue to be proactive.

In the meantime, we want to hear from you! What are some of the best resources you’ve used to create dialogues on your campus regarding cultural appropriation? What are some other ways you’ve engaged and empowered students in leading this change on your campus? Tweet @CheckImHere to share your ideas!

P.S. Happy Halloween!


Lazo, Kate. 2013. Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

Keating, A.. (1995). Interrogating “Whiteness,” (De)Constructing “Race”. College English, 57(8), 901–918. https://doi.org/10.2307/378620

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.