The days of trick-or-treating are over for college students but costume-wearing continues. With trending debates such as “My culture is not your prom dress” and Kappa Sigma fraternity’s “Cinco de Drinko” themed party two years ago. Baylor Multicultural Affairs shares their insight on cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation, as defined by Baylor Diversity & Inclusion, is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
Cultural appreciation seeks further understanding of a culture, whereas appropriation further perpetuates stereotypes, according to San Francisco junior and Multicultural Affairs Black Student Coalition intern Shevann Steuben.
Sharyl Loeung, Coordinator for Outreach and Inclusion, said when it comes to wearing Halloween costumes, “when in doubt, leave it out.”
“With the exception of appropriation versus appreciation, I am a strong believer in pushing the envelope, but I think when you take into account negative impacts on people, you need to more seriously consider what you’re doing,” Steuben said.
Gilbert, Ariz., senior and Multicultural Affairs Asian Student Coalition intern Sam Lin said intent and impact are two things to consider. While intentions may be to merely borrow from another culture, the impact of an innocent intention may be insulting to members of that culture.
“Your intent can be one thing, but you need to realize that your impact is what’s going to last longest,” Lin said.
When a person realizes they have appropriated another culture, Coordinator of Creative Services Maggie Griffin said one should “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Griffin also gives recommendations for students on how to pick the appropriate costume while respecting different cultures.
“I would first recommend reaching out to anyone they have a relationship with from that culture to discuss the situation,” Griffin said. “Reflecting on what happened with someone who has a personal connection to the artifact or practice that was appropriated creates important space for personal growth.”
Steuben said speaking up against cultural appropriation should be paired with explanations, because “it’s not a can’t; it’s a shouldn’t,” and people should be educated to make choices for themselves.
There are over 36 organizations under Multicultural Affairs whose meetings are open for visitors to learn more about their culture without having to commit to membership, said Steuben.
“Cultural organizations are there for a reason,” Steuben said. “They’re there for cultures to celebrate where they came from, but they’re also there for people to learn about them.”
According to Baylor Institutional Research and Testing, 36.5 percent of undergraduate students as of fall 2018 are minorities. Lin described Baylor as a diverse campus full of people to ask questions.
“You should want to go and want to learn about someone’s culture as much as you want to know their favorite color or who their mom is or whatever small fact about them,” Steuben said.
Griffin said creating spaces for discussion helps combat cultural appropriation.
“At all times, not just around Halloween, we should be encouraging one another to learn more about their own identities and culture and those of others. Then, instances of cultural appropriation will happen less and less,” Griffin said.
Baylor Diversity & Inclusion has a webpage “My Culture Is Not A Costume” with further resources and information on cultural appropriation. Student Body President Hannah Causey and Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson sent an email on Friday to raise student awareness about making costume choices.