Even Halloween costumes can have consequences, a group of Flagstaff Halloween-goers discovered this week, when photographs of their costumes resulted in thousands of online comments expressing feelings of shock and disgust.
Early this week, a group of five Northern Arizona University students shared images of themselves dressed as homeless individuals, wearing baggy clothing and makeup to reflect beards and bruises, while holding cardboard signs portraying themselves as teen and immigrant mothers, a college dropout, a veteran with prostate cancer and a recovering alcoholic.
By Thursday, the photographs -- posted publicly by someone who had seen the students’ pictures -- were shared more than 5,000 times on Facebook and Twitter combined. The Instagram account of the student who first shared the images has since been made private.
NAU President Rita Cheng made a statement Thursday afternoon to address the incident.
“Northern Arizona University values diversity and inclusion. A recent Halloween post by NAU students has been taken seriously. The Dean of Students and Assistant Vice President of Student Engagement and Inclusive Excellence met with the students yesterday,” Cheng said. “The students recognized the seriousness of their actions and apologized. NAU values and supports free speech. However, speech that is demeaning to others does not represent our values.”
An hour later, Cheng followed up with a post on Twitter stating that the university used the incident as an opportunity to educate the students.
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“While we don't condone the behavior, NAU supports free speech,” she said.
NAU spokesperson Kim Ott said NAU does not have policies related to appropriate costumes; however, the university does a “Culture not a costume” program every October. The Offices of Inclusion: Multicultural & LGBTQIA Student Services and Housing and Residence Life partner to place posters throughout campus and in dorms to encourage students to steer away from costumes that are offensive or cultural appropriation.
Ivy Banks, Assistant Vice President of Student Engagement and Inclusive Excellence, said NAU also offers monthly conversational series to learn about, discuss and engage with differences.
“As part of this initiative, we educate our resident community members on the unique identities of our Lumberjack community which serves as one of our greatest treasures that should be celebrated, not ridiculed, by all campus members,” Banks said.
The students who wore the costumes could not be reached for comment.