Home Education STARS campaign against racist Halloween costumes sees its third year of progress

STARS campaign against racist Halloween costumes sees its third year of progress

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Halloween weekend—a sea of ketchup bottles, Miley Cyrus look-a-likes and Breaking Bad super fans drunkenly parading down Court Street—also plays a role in the normally-subtle racism that occurs on a college campus becoming completely blatant in the form of ethnic and racial stereotype costumes. It’s an occurrence that an Ohio University student organization is combating one Halloween at a time.

Students Teaching About Racism in Society, an organization founded in 1988 to address the culture of “isms” in modern society, like racism, sexism and heteroecism, has completed its third Halloween “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign to teach students and the community about the insensitivity that comes with dressing as a stereotypical version of a race, ethnicity or nationality.

The 2013 poster campaign for Halloween featured the slogan “When this is how the world sees you, it’s just not funny” overtop photos of various racial and ethnic groups expressing disappointment at a student who is dressed as a stereotypical version of themselves.

“We added more people to the posters this year to show solidarity in the community,” said Alexis Evans, the president of S.T.A.R.S.

Evans explained that the posters, which are hung all around campus, are not meant to blatantly tell people what they should and should not wear as Halloween costumes, but rather to start a dialogue about how these costumes are insensitive to those they attempt to represent.

“When people dress like that they aren’t trying to be malicious or racist, they just don’t know. They’re not trying to be hateful. We just want people to be more aware and after they learn ‘the mean’ behind it they’d want to change it,” Evans said. “We can’t prevent people from wearing insensitive costumes but we can talk and help people make better decisions.”

The poster campaign drew national attention since its inception in 2011 when it went viral over social media. However, the success of the campaign, Evans said, is hard to measure.

“As far as awareness goes, we weren’t trying to get national attention. It was a problem we saw in the community when people were having ‘race parties’…The whole point was just to get it noticed around town,” Evans said, adding that no matter what people are still going to choose these costumes. “From a really large perspective the campaign has made a difference because it’s created a dialogue. Since it started we do see people talking about racist costumes.”

Leah Woodruff, a senior studying commercial photography, has been the photographer for the Halloween poster campaign since it began her sophomore year.

“The first year had one person on each post and the second year had two. This year we had five in each poster. It makes a stronger point—more people, more emotion,” Woodruff said.

In 2011, the posters featured a single model holding a picture of someone in a costume that targeted the model’s race or nationality. The second year was a similar concept, only the costume-wearer stood next to the diverse student, perpetuating the idea that a racial costume can be taken off at the end of the day, but the stereotyped student has to wear that stigma forever.

As Evans mentioned, however, this year S.T.A.R.S decided to depict a campus where students unified against racism.

“You see them both the people glaring at the camera and at the model in front of them. It makes a very strong mood,” Woodruff said.

Brice Gottesman, a senior studying meteorology, said the campaign was what made him aware of the problem with some Halloween costumes.

“I always thought they were funny, but I was made aware of the issue with them when OU started the campaign,” Gottesman said. “But it depends on the costumes. Some really are malicious and you can tell.”

Evans did point out that not everyone agrees with the campaign’s goal, noting that the S.T.A.R.S email account gets several hateful emails a day, even accusing the organization itself for being racist.

“People don’t fully understand the consequences but after seeing the campaign they apologize and they see where they’re coming from. But there’s a lot of people that I think do it just to spite us,” Evans said.

Walking in Uptown Athens on Halloween weekend you can find everything from “homeless” costumes to people painted in blackface.

“Yesterday I saw a kid dressed up in a sombrero Mexican hat and I just think ‘Come on, have you not see the posters?,” Woodruff said. “Hopefully it stops some people from dressing up like people from other cultures. But for the most part I didn’t see a ton of racist costumes.”

Evans said S.T.A.R.S is truly conversational based, and that the true measure is how much people talk about the problem and then are willing to admit that there is one.

“We’re no longer at the time of segregation so the racism you see is subtler and more engrained and it’s harder to notice. We have our prejudices. But it’s a matter of being conscious and noticing it and dealing with it,” Evans said.


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