Event on Campus: My Culture Is Not Your Costume

Audrey Tchaa –

It hasn’t been long since Halloween, and one of Speak Up’s student employees, Lois Cassel hosted her Social Justice Coffee Hour on cultural appropriation. In this discussion, students talked about why and how people’s culture isn’t a costume: hence the event title, “My Culture Is Not Your Costume.” 

Cultural appropriation is a societal issue that has been around for a while, especially during Halloween week(end). Cassel explained that cultural appropriation is derived from negative stereotypes that people have of certain minority groups/marginalized identities. The example she gave is dressing up as a Mexican person for a Halloween costume. She says people perceive this minority group as lazy, drunk, partiers, and that they just want to have a siesta, which she states isn’t an accurate description of them.

“No matter how you put it, if you’re wearing a costume that is supposed to represent a certain identity, you’re pulling racist stereotypes to do those things and it’s never, in my opinion, respectful,” said Cassel.

Cassel described the environment of the event as lively and encouraging. “I don’t think there was any hinderance or backlash from anybody. If anything, people were very receptive to the information they got from the coffee hour. There was great conversation, at least from what I overheard, and there were a lot of people that were already there who knew the consequences of cultural appropriation, so they were just getting more information about the issue,” said Cassel. “I loved the environment. I think this was an environment that fostered a lot of growth and comprehension and understanding, and putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes,” concluded Cassel.

During the conversation, Cassel said that many spoke on behalf of their own experiences; herself being one of them. She explained that those who did speak out about the subject felt that their identities were being untruthfully portrayed and that it has become a lot more of a personal conversation. Cassel also said that those who weren’t as educated on the subject started to learn more about the different perspectives of how people feel and learned more about the subject as a whole.

“It’s very easy to see a costume, especially if it’s not the identity you have. It’s very easy to just brush it off and be like, ‘Oh, it’s just funny. It’s not the same thing,’ and then you learn from someone who has the identity and they’re like, ‘This is actually how that makes me feel,’ and they come to a realization that they made someone feel bad,” said Cassel.  

Cassel feels that we need to have these conversations and ignoring them won’t make it any better. “I don’t think cultural appropriation is going to disappear by us just hoping and praying that it does. It starts with conversation, it starts with people recognizing that there’s a problem, and it starts with people humanizing others and seeing them beyond just stereotypes,” said Cassel.

Speak Up stands for Social Justice Programming for Engagement, Action, Knowledge and Understanding. It’s a department that gives a space for marginalized/minority groups to be more engaged in conversation and activities.

Speak Up supervisor Jacqueline Bisson sheds more light into why we should all be more involved and connected with Speak Up. “We do different social justice programming and look at different marginalized identities that we can bring awareness to and education around, but also build resilience in those communities,” said Bisson.

Bisson continues to explain that being a person who isn’t as privileged as those in the majority should be given a voice. It’s also necessary to educate those who are privileged and engage them into having these kinds of conversations, which brings benefits to both in the majority and minority.

Cassel said, “We have to have an open and honest dialogue about why we feel this way about certain people and where that comes from. It’s not just going to go away without us saying anything. It’s like going to a doctor, finding out you have cancer and then just being like, ‘Okay, if I just ignore the tumor growing in my head that can turn cancerous then it’ll just eventually go away,’ and it doesn’t work like that. Racism and a lot of other awful things in this country are cancerous and it can be very fatal to a lot of people if you don’t address the issue,” concluded Cassel.

Social Justice Coffee Hours happen every other week throughout each semester. To find out more about Speak Up, go visit them on Connect and check out their upcoming programs.