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Northern Arizona University is asking students to think before they don their costumes this Halloween.

The University’s Office of Housing and Residence Life has put out a poster campaign reminding students that costumes that make a caricature or stereotype out of another culture may be offensive and cultural appropriation.

The posters which were put up around campus and in dorms, features the phrase “We are a culture not a costume.” It also has a picture of four people of different nationalities holding photos of examples of costumes that present a stereotype of their culture, such as a Pocahontas outfit, a "Chinaman" outfit with a pointed hat, a Mexican senorita with a sombrero and what’s supposed to be an “African” outfit with a black curly wig.

A similar poster gives students pointers on how to determine if their costume might be offensive or cultural appropriation, such as does it perpetuate a racist stereotype? Does it misrepresent a culture? Does it show love for a culture, but also prejudice against that culture’s people? Is it hurtful or offensive to others?

“Answering ‘No’ to these questions doesn’t mean appropriation isn’t happening,” the poster states.

Kim Ott, the assistant to the president for Executive Communications and Media Relations, said the posters are not new.

“NAU is not policing Halloween costumes. No one is going to do anything to any student that chooses to ignore the poster campaign. This is simply an educational campaign with voluntary participation,” Ott wrote in an email. “We have been doing a campaign like this for several years in an effort to help students think about their costumes before they create them.”

NAU’s Office of Housing and Residence Life website uses a quote from “Introduction to Cultural Appropriation” by Bruce Ziff and Pratima Rao to define cultural appropriation as “The taking – from a culture that is not one’s own – of intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifacts, history and ways of knowledge.”

NAU is not alone in putting out a reminder to be sensitive to other cultures during Halloween. The University of St. Thomas has put out a similar poster. Diversity groups at several universities, such as the University of California at Santa Barbara and Princeton University are holding voluntary workshops to discuss cultural appropriation and stereotypes.

The reporter can be reached at or (928)556-2253.


Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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