The University of Florida sent out a warning to its students this past week—but it wasn’t about the dangers of Hurricane Matthew or excessive drinking.
It was about Halloween costumes.
“If you choose to participate in Halloween activities, we encourage you to think about your choices of costumes and themes,” a university memo said. “Some Halloween costumes reinforce stereotypes of particular races, genders, cultures or religions.”
The college pointed students toward its Bias Education and Response Team, which available to respond to any troubling Halloween incident that may occur, and 24/7 counseling for anyone upset by a costume.
A university spokeswoman said the Division of Student Affairs does not offer guidelines to students for which costumes might be offensive, bias or appropriative. The advisory does not violate students’ right to free speech and free expression, said Janine Sikes, assistant vice president of media relations and university affairs.
If the Bias Education and Response Team receives a report about an offensive Halloween costume, it reaches out to the person who complained, offering support and other services, Sikes said.
“Depending on the circumstances, we might reach out to the person who was listed as wearing the costume and see what support or resources they might need as well,” she said. “No one is required to talk to BERT. If the individuals involved desire further conversations with us or each other, we would help facilitate this.”
Students reported for wearing problematic costumes would not face disciplinary measures from the college, she said. BERT’s website explicitly states that it does not investigate or adjudicate reported bias, instead working with other campus entities to provide support and resources.
The University of Florida has drawn negative attention in the past for students’ Halloween costumes. In both 2012 and 2011, students posted photos on social media showing them in blackface, prompting widespread criticism.
The University of Florida’s Halloween memo cautioned students that social media posts have the potential to harm personal and professional reputations.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.