Their Culture is Still Not A Costume

Being raised in one of North Carolina’s most rural communities didn’t allow me much exposure to cultural diversity, especially when compared to more metropolitan areas. I believed my time at College of Charleston would allow an immersion in an environment more tolerant of societal variety. After the debut of a racially insulting group Halloween costume by The College’s own softball team, I realized how wrong I was – insensitivity and ignorance can be found nearly anywhere.

Turning a nationality into a costume mocks, caricatures, and belittles the culture. Believing the entire population of Mexico can be captured in a costume demonstrates a derogatory generalization. They are more than a single depiction. An email was sent to the entirety of the College’s population in response to the costumes from Junior and Resident Assistant, Manny Lopez, in which he addressed his position as an immigrant from Mexico and noted personal experiences of discrimination within this institution. He wrote, “It is all fun and games until you learn that the people you mock with your costumes are the people who risk it all for a dream. The same people who risk their futures, their families, and their own lives for protection, safety, and opportunities.” This alone should communicate how damaging a Halloween costume can be to an entire community.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Due to the College’s location in a city recognized for its past of racially-based cruelty, the administration and numerous student-run organizations have made several efforts throughout the school year to educate students on cultural variety and how to avoid any form of associated degradation. Specific to the insulting costumes (which have made past appearances on campus), multiple cultural diversity empowerment clubs on campus (Collegiate Curls, Asian Student Association, Black Student Union and Hispanic Latino Club) held a forum prior to Halloween called “What You Not Gon’ Do…” and several campus-wide emails were sent to the student body from administration. All with the purpose of clarifying racial insensitivity and to caution students against participating. After each of these attempts to combat discriminatory costumes, it is difficult to blame the school for inaction prior to Halloween.

Following the display, President Stephen Osborne was the first to send a campus-wide email regarding the costumes, informing the student body of the event, reprimanding the softball team’s actions, apologizing to those impacted, and extending an offer for students to voice their thoughts in order to alleviate any pain caused. Included was an apology from the softball team, to which President Osborne responded: “I accept their apology, but now comes the hard part: where we put action to words and make meaningful change. In line with that, the softball team will be undergoing diversity and inclusion training beginning next week.” Although his message demonstrated genuine consideration and sympathy to the campus community, his solution of diversity training seemed insufficient. Given the substantial amount of mandatory diversity education for regular students, it is difficult to believe additional training for the softball team will ensure a changed climate on campus. As Lopez vehemently stated in his email, “I am, personally, not taking empty, indirect email apologies and ‘Diversity Training’ as enough to solve this ‘incident’… As an institution, we need to realize that this “incident” IS NOT the first and WILL NOT be the last of its kind if proper actions are not taken.”  

Overall, this act of racial insensitivity was degrading to the Hispanic, Latinx and Immigrant communities on campus. The fact that it took place, after all of the attempts to avoid it, reveals the need for more than just educating. Enforcing further consequences for actions of this nature may prove to be more effective in the overall effort to substantially change the campus climate. Most importantly, our community needs to begin celebrating the diversity on our campus, rather than mocking it.

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Katie Hopewell is a Sophomore Political Science and English double major with a concentration in Writing, Rhetoric, and Publication. Katie is from Emerald Isle, North Carolina and spends her spare time playing frisbee for CofC's Women's Ultimate Team.

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