Yale Debates: Are Offensive Costumes a Problem?

November 2, 2015

An associate master of one of Yale's residential colleges has set off a campus debate with an email saying offensive Halloween costumes may not be as terrible as some say.

On Friday, Erika Christakis sent a mass email in response to what she said were student concerns over being told not to risk offending people with costumes. She wrote, in part: “Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense -- and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes -- I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people's capacity -- in your capacity -- to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?”

Her full email may be found here.

While some on social media are praising her, others are criticizing her for not understanding the hurt caused by costumes that are based on race and ethnicity. On Twitter, Christakis clarified that her point was not to suggest that some costumes aren't offensive, noting that “many of the same costumes offend me too.”

+ -

Expand commentsHide comments  —   Join the conversation!

Opinions on Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U

Back to Top