“Culture is not a costume” posters spark debate

Photo by Emaan Bangash | Mercury Staff.


On the third floor of Canyon Creek Apartments North, a poster labelled “Culture is Not a Costume” was displayed in the common area, sparking a conversation between students on the UTD subreddit.

A cultural diversity-awareness pledge was written on the poster, with the promise that those who signed it will be entered in a raffle. Additionally, eight other posters were up around the common area with photos of cultural costumes, such as Eskimo and Redneck. They included explanations for why the costumes were offensive and facts about the culture.  The pledge contained less than five signatures and a few comments from students.

Peer Advisor Bailey Phelan created the posters as part of a required program for peer advisors at UTD. She chose this project as a part of the Delta Zeta organization’s “Culture is not a costume” movement that started at Miami University in Ohio. Since the beginning of October, Phelan said she wanted to bring it to the UTD residence halls, and planned it two weeks before Halloween.

“Our organization has moved forward with this as well and encouraged our members to be culturally aware when it comes to Halloween costumes and really take into account cultural differences,” Phelan said.

Computer science junior Daniel Garcia came across the posters on the UTD subreddit discussion. He said that while he saw the misrepresentation in Halloween costumes as an issue, some of the costumes portrayed on the posters may be open to interpretation as to whether they are offensive or not.

“I would say it depends on the intention of the person making the costume, whether it’s done in poor taste or with accuracy,” Garcia said.

Phelan included other cultural costumes, such as “Mexican,” “Sugar Skulls” and “Geisha,” that she said were some of the most common ones addressed on the internet and in articles she read about the issue.

“In general, some of these posters have microaggressions in them that are not intentionally done but it comes out of not knowing,” Phelan said. “I think that we can always be a little more educated on other cultural backgrounds.”

Madison Nicholson, a neuroscience sophomore, said she didn’t notice the posters until the day before Halloween and said the diversity on campus may have warranted the need to remind students about cultural representation in Halloween costumes.

“Considering how diverse our school is, I think it’s just an act of courtesy in general,” Nicholson said.

Phelan said she hopes the program affects not only students living on her floor, but anyone who comes into the apartments. She said she wants students to have knowledge of multiple cultures and the ability to be able to work with people of different backgrounds.

“It’s the responsibility that I feel as a PA to really build the community, so it’s really important that they get this information,” Phelan said. “Whether it changes anything in their life or just is a thought, I just really want the chance to build a community and build awareness.”


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