The Annual College Halloween Follies: The University of Texas

October 30, 2019 • 11:30 am

Tomorrow is Halloween, and what better way to celebrate than by scaring you about how it’s celebrated at some American colleges? The institution at hand happens to be the venerable University of Texas at Austin, a public university and one of America’s better state schools.

For Halloween, however, the Dean of Students Office chose to treat the students like young children by issuing a four-page pamphlet (pdf here, or click on screenshot below) telling students which costumes are offensive and which are recommended—and why. Objecting to this kind of paternal behavior is what got Nicholas and Erika Christakis harassed and demonized at Yale and, ultimately, led to their resignations as residential house heads.

Read and weep:

Before they start in on the chiding and patronizing lectures, the administrators added a First-Amendment disclaimer, which only makes what follows more ludicrous.

No, they don’t “regulate speech or enforce costume guidelines,” but they sure as hell tell you which costumes will offend other people, and they helpfully provide a list of bland and inoffensive costumes that will offend nobody.

Now of course there are costumes that will be considered generally offensive, like blackface or attire that blatantly mocks some groups. I wouldn’t wear such costumes, but neither would I tell others not to wear them—unless they ask my advice. One of the things students should learn—on their own—is that their actions may have consequences.

But the list of party themes and costumes proscribed by the Dean’s Office includes Hawaiians, gypsies (Roma), anybody in the Southern New World (offenseive to Latinxs), hobos, anything Asian, and “around-the-world” costumes, whatever those are. These are deemed “harmful” by the Dean of Students’ Office.

The pamphlet also gives six questions to consider when planning a Halloween party or considering a costume to wear. Implicit in these questions is that you must always consider the educational mission of your party or costume, assuming it has even the merest potential to offend. These two questions, for example, offend me:

Sorry, but since when are Halloween costumes supposed to educate people? The “educational” question seems in fact to be a last resort for those miscreants who persist in their decision that a costume or party will have a theme about “a culture”. In that case, you must ensure that the costume or event somehow tells people about its authenticity and, presumably, about why other costumes harm groups that have been oppressed. But how the deuce can you be “educational” with a costume?

And here’s the bit where if you think that anyone might be offended by a costume, don’t do it! (The “we” here is the organization or individual considering a costume or party.) Note the dark words about “the consequences”.

Since all costumes about cutlures or history are apparently verboten, the University recommends a list of appropriate and inoffensive costumes. Cast your eyes on this anodyne list:

“Letters of the alphabet”? “When I grow up”? “Rubix Cube” costumes? (It’s spelled “Rubik’s Cube”, by the way.) You as a “high school hero”? This is guaranteed to take the fun out of Halloween by scaring you into not being at all edgy. The last thing I’d want to be on Halloween is a Rubik’s cube. And if I dressed as a nerd—my “glory days” in high school—would that not be offensive to nerds?

As I said, some costumes are in terrible taste and will tick off other people. But we should also remember that some people are constantly scrutinizing others for the least sign of ideological impurity, and some of those people seemingly want to be offended, for it gives them not only victim credit but also the right to chew out other people. The idea of being charitable and not automatically assuming the worst is, as they say, “erased.”

My own recommendation is to use your own judgment. But that, of course, was what Erika Christakis said in her email to Yale students that caused such a fracas. You simply can no longer tell students to use their own judgement as adults. For—at least at Yale and The University of Texas—the students are seen not as adults, but as children roughly eight years old.

And this will only get worse. In a decade or so, you’ll be allowed to dress only as yourself.

90 thoughts on “The Annual College Halloween Follies: The University of Texas

  1. Austin in known for having clothing-optional apartment complexes; so maybe the solution is to have a Hallowe’en party where everybody wears nothing at all.

    That reminds me of a story about a guy who went to a costume party wearing nothing but roller skates. When someone asked him what he was supposed to be, he said “A pull toy!”

  2. They forgot zombies – I chatted with several of my zombie friends and they are all triggered, offended, and made to feel marginalized and unsafe by the microaggression of non-zombies making themselves to appear to be true zombies.

      1. Duly noted. I should have remembered that my friends have told me that it is fine if they refer to one another as zombie, but it is never ok for an undead person to use the term. Besides, if an undead person presents themselves as an undead-dead person, it is obviously cultural appropriation.

    1. Zombies are OK unless you go as Michael Jackson (but would that be ‘blackface’ or ‘whiteface’? 😉

      cr

    2. I myself prefer the term “recently re-animated” because it shows that zombies can live a full and productive un-life.

  3. “[Y]ou’ll be allowed to dress only as yourself” – that could work for Halloween, my teenagers certainly look horrified when I’m seen with them in public.

  4. I don’t get the part about “hobos.” I suppose students relate it somehow to today’s homelessness crisis. But, you ask me, it refers to a particular tradition, and a noble one at that, dating to the Great Depression. John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie both spent time of and among the hobo camps of the bindlestiffs and railriders — and our culture, and our American slang, is much the richer for it.

    1. I had exactly the same reaction. Hobos? Really? When I was growing up it was a very popular disguise – probably in part because it wasn’t too hard to throw together at the last minute.

      1. I suppose that today Red Skelton could not get by with his Freddy the Freeloader, my personal favorite of his.

        1. I doubt if old Red could get away with any of his routines. Mean widdle kid? Punch-drunk fighter? The congenitally humorless would call child-endangerment authorities for one and offer the other an MRI. Gertrude and Heathcliff, maybe (they were seagulls), but he’d have to change the names for fear of the one surviving Gertrude in the Western Hemisphere taking offence.

    2. But that doesn’t cut it with the woke folk. Heck, here in Berkeley, we aren’t even supposed to speak of “homeless” people. We must use “unhoused” or “unhomed” or some such ugly PC euphemism.

      On one hand, I agree with your characterization; but on the other, while I would not proscribe the use of the word “hobo” or “homeless” (I use those terms myself); but I also would never romanticize hobos and the homeless. By whatever name such unfortunate people are called, I would not make an appeal to a ‘noble’ tradition if only because 1) the reality is far from romantic, It’s loathsome and grim; and 2) the romanticization of homelessness can be and is used as a tool to suppress righteous complaint, something like Mother Teresa valorizing poverty for religious reasons (how beautiful is this Imitation of Christ), or similar appeals that are used in a variety of situations to keep oppressed people oppressed and to try to make them not only feel good about it but feel ennobled or holy because of it and that’s something I categorically reject.

        1. Now that’s a costume I’d ban straightaway. That and anything associated with My Little Pony. My esthetic sensibilities are mightily offended, and that consideration takes precedence over any other.

          Let me make it clear, I am not advocating banning hobo costumes and the like, and I certainly don’t agree with the precepts in the UTA guidebook; my point was that one should not forget the reality of such existential states. The controversy about such proscriptions has been a continuing topic of discussion on this site, and I think for good reason. In some ways any sort of costume could be considered offensive to someone or dismissive of something.

          A Mother Teresa mask alone would terrify.

      1. You’re right; we shouldn’t romanticize the Great Depression. But those were the days, as FDR said in his Second Inaugural, when “one-third of a nation [was] ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” There was, thus, not the same unwarranted stigma attached to poverty that there is today.

        Many young men hopped freight cars with nothing but a bedroll on their backs, heading west to find work, often picking fruits and vegetables in California. Other families took automobiles (if you could call them that) like the Joads.

        “Hobos,” after a fashion, all.

    3. “our culture, and our American slang, is much the richer for it.”

      Most of such slang is colorful and extremely un-PC. The antithesis of ‘woke’.

      One of my non-guilty pleasures is reading Damon Runyon occasionally. (It would be a guilty pleasure if I had one trace of wokeness in me but happily I don’t).

      cr

  5. If I was faced with this, I’d say “to hell with it” and sit in the library and study. Why take the risk?… actually I’d do that in any case…

  6. I’d just like to point oput that “gypsy” is highly offensive to the Traveller community. Thats the thing about being “woke”. Its a moving target.

  7. If I have to dress as myself in a few years I wonder if I will remember how I was dressed.

    I think it is going to be too cold here for trick or treating. Light snow today.

  8. I think the time has come for these institutions to supply university-approved Halloween costumes – just the least offensive, most blank, colourless design.

    What about a big white sheet to go over your entire body? Maybe with a white cowl to go over your head with some eyes cut in it?

    Of course you’d need some kind of flaming torch to light your way, because it’d be dark and hard to see out of the cowl.

    And they’d have to make it identical for everyone, otherwise people might feel left out. So lots and lots of costumes, for all the students, so they can get together in big crowds on Halloween – perhaps at some kind of public meeting point, like a large local religious symbol(careful with those flaming torches though).

    1. White sheets only?

      So you think all dead people are white?

      Your hateful words erase the existence of all dead people and ghosts of color.

      My god, the white privilege is so endemic.

      1. The reason ghosts are often depicted as animated sheets is because in the pre-undertaker days, prople were just wrapped in shrouds when they were buried, and when they returned as apparitions, it was in the form in which they were last seen – covered by a shroud. So the color of the ghost depends, not on the skin tone of the deceased, but on the color of the cloth that covered them when they were buried.

        /srtsc

        1. Typo apology “people”, not “prople”. I should also mention that shroud burial was the norm for common people, not the wealthy or nobility – but Hallowe’en arises from the commons.

  9. At this time of year, my disabled son and I haunt Halloween shops to admire the various robotic figures. I can report that many of them would no doubt fail the U of T Dean’s Office guidelines. For example, many of the robots are witches, clearly offensive to women, especially those of a certain age. Others are of bats, wolves, and werewolves, obvious examples of speciesism. And the ghosts are invariably white, in fact dead white—a clear case of white privilege.

  10. Last weekend was the big Halloween celebration in Key West, “Fantasy Fest.” Folks here seem to have solved the cultural offense issue by essentially doing away with costumes all together and giving the weekend over to public nudity and general debauchery.

    I don’t partake myself. But one of the main body-painting stations is right across the street from my office. I happened to be happening by there on the day of the big parade, and a lovely, very-fit young woman wearing nothing but a fresh coat of body pain, a G-string, and a smile came up to me with a box of glitter and asked me would I mind blowing handfuls of the stuff all over her from head to toe.

    Took a while, but you know me: always the Good Samaritan. 🙂

    1. I talked in that other thread about Jimmy Carter going around the world building houses, but you’re the real hero, Ken 😀

      1. Ah, Fantasy Fest. One thing that my wife & I loved to do was head for the balcony at the Whistle bar (overlooking Duval St.) and check out all the costumes while imbibing.
        And the parades! I will always remember the Flea Circus float, with the kids on roller blades dressed as fleas flying up and down the half pipe.

    2. “. . . giving the weekend over to public nudity and general debauchery.”

      In other words, just like any special event in Key West. Always had a good time in Key West, though the ride down was often brutal.

  11. . . . and remind them that they are accountable to each other[,] and that their actions can negatively impact other members of the university Community.

    This is the bureaucratic, officious language that implies that there is something of which official cognizance must be taken, when, in fact, there is not. What they mean is that other people might not like it, and that the administration doesn’t want to have to deal with that.

  12. I was particularly charmed by this helpful sentence on the front of the pamphlet: “Themes and costumes may intentionally or unintentionally appropriate another culture or experience”. Needless to say, any costume—in fact, any play, movie, novel, short story, opera, etc.—intentionally appropriates another experience. This appropriation is also called literature. Pictorial art does the same. The irony here is that phrases like the one in quotes come from an office of an institution of what used to be called higher education. One has to wonder how many drones with BA degrees in Critical Gender Diversity Theory find employment in college offices that churn out stuff like the pamphlet under discussion.

  13. Oh, well, guess we have to abolish Halloween altogether in order to appease the wokerati.

    But wouldn’t then be angry to have been deprived of a favorite prime pretext for self-glorifying outrage?

    What a dilemma.

    1. Good idea ,nasty Ameruka thing that has been inflicted on us poor English ,yes i know it was an Irish thing to begin with .

  14. This story reminds me of two Halloween costumes (seen, not my invention) from past years, that I’m guessing might cause a few aneurysms in the Austin staff.

    Jackie Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit (worn by a guy), with meaty splatter across the shoulder.

    Michael Jackson, with a straw man kid tied around his waist, face against crotch.

  15. Are pumpkins out in case people are triggered about the White House incumbent? Though maybe by October 2021 that won’t be an issue. (As a Brit, it’s hard to think so far ahead – UK melection decided today and the result will be known by Friday 13th November (unless there’s a hung parliament) so the omens aren’t too good.

  16. ”Wouldn’t it be offensive to nerds?”

    Didn’t you get the memo? Nerds are problematic. Nerds are sweaty bearded gatekeepers of nerd culture keeping POCs, differently abled and other minorities out. It’s ok to be offensive to nerds. Nerds are at the top of the progressive stack.

  17. While I agree with the Professor, I wonder if one of my fondest memories of Halloween would trigger anyone today. It was in the late Eighties, in Georgetown, DC, at a costume party when I saw them and nearly fell over laughing at the ingenious and scandalous costumes these two guys were wearing. Both were stocky, muscular and exceptionally hairy. They were wearing one piece ladies’ swimsuits, swim caps over wigs, goggles, gold medals, and “DDR” printed across their chests. The East German Women’s Olympic Swim Team.

    Still cracks me up.

    1. High marks for humorous content, but expect low scores from the East German judges on degree of difficulty. 🙂

    2. Of course it would trigger many today — a joke at the expense of trans women who compete in athletics is NOT ok 😉

  18. Oh dear.. I guess I should be grateful that my little daughters will be a witch and a vampire princess tomorrow… But “When I Grow Up” would certainly be more adequate for my six year old than for a university student…

    Having children, I think it is very sad that “cultural” costumes are deemed offensive. That is not yet the case here in Germany, and my kids love to play “Indianer” (Native Americans) or to dress in Bollywood or in bellydance costumes. Not to denigrate other cultures, but out of admiration for the beauty of these dresses. I have not yet meet anyone who is offended by this – and we live in a multicultural neighborhood. If anything, people are happy that their traditional clothes are appreciated.

    BTW, as a Bavarian I feel the same about the people of all cultural backgrounds dressing in “Dirndl” and “Krachlederne” for the Oktoberfest :-).

    I do, of course, understand that blackface is offensive. When I was a young child, I once dressed in full “blackbody”, complete with whig and grass skirt. I had a then so called “negro doll”, loved it more than all my other dolls, and wanted to be its mother for carnival. No offence was intended, of course. Today, I am well aware that this meant stereotyping people of colour as primitive. Back than, they were just exotic to me.

    1. BTW, as a Bavarian I feel the same about the people of all cultural backgrounds dressing in “Dirndl” and “Krachlederne” for the Oktoberfest :-).

      Sorry, can’t hear you over the sound of the oom-pah band. 🙂

      1. Just realised that by drinking lager I’ve been guilty of cultural appropriation for years. Will stick to tap water, just as soon as I’ve completed my research into who invented the tap…

        1. Lager ,water ,reminds me of the line in Red Dwarf “We Have Recycled The Water So Often ,It Is Beginning To Taste Like Dutch Lager “

            1. My (anti) hero has got to be Dave Lister. (Examining the laundry: “No way are these my boxer shorts. These bend!”)

              cr

              1. It has been pointed out in a way Lister is the *ultimate* hero – certainly more than many Star Trek characters, for example. Think about it – he’s poor, badly educated, and the literal last human alive. And yet he soldiers on, doing the right thing and bettering himself (sometimes) anyway.

  19. In my day, students would have ignored or laughed at this, even if it is just advice. Is it any different now?

  20. What an idiotic pamphlet. But there are always loopholes.

    One year our engineering school committee decided that the AGM, which traditionally was a fairly shambolic affair, should be more dignified, so they promulgated that ties must be worn. So of course, on the night, the front row was occupied by a row of guys wearing top hats, ties and underpants (and nothing else). Students…

    cr

  21. ‘(Y)ou’ll be allowed to dress only as yourself’: reminds me of ‘The Art of Coarse Drinking’ (1973: probably UK only) by the late Michael Green, where in the chapter about ‘Parties and Entertaining’ he observes:

    ‘Lack of costume need be no bar to a Coarse Drinker wishing to attend a fancy dress party. The simplest thing is to go in one’s own clothes and announce firmly, ‘I am disguised as a drunken, shabby, middle-aged man’.

    Sorry to lower the tone.

    1. Michael Green wrote a series of ‘Coarse’ books, from Coarse Rugby to Coarse Golf, Coarse Acting and even Coarse Sex, from the early 60s on. His definition of a Coarse Drinker is ‘someone who blames his hangover on the tonic rather than the gin’.

  22. I know witches were considered to be real hundreds of years ago, and essentially made it ok to murder women.

    Witches are standard of modern children’s Halloween fare.

    Should they be phased out? I don’t think so. Does anyone think they normalize murder? No.

    Thus, I am waiting for the banning of witch costumes.

    1. Are Wiccans allowed to legitimately dress as witches? Of course, if anyone objects to someone wearing a witch costume, she could always claim “They dressed me like this!”

  23. I like the bit in Halloween 3 ,season of the witch where the mad Irishman explains why he is planning to kill all the American kids .

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