An e-mail sent by Northwestern University’s dean of students on Tuesday started out like a nice Autumm poem. “The end of October is quickly approaching, and along with the falling leaves and cooler nights come the Halloween celebrations,” Burgwell Howard wrote (h/t The Root). But the tone changed after that first sentence: “However, Halloween is unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most NU students can be forgotten and some poor decisions are made.”

It’s true. Last year, Halloween brought scandal to the campus when national news reports featured Northwestern students dressing up in blackface. One student attended a party dressed as Bob Marley, painting his entire body black and wearing a shirt with the word “Jamaica.” A second student dressed as a black woman with a tennis racket.

The two students, believed to be varsity athletes, sparked a national uproar once Gawker picked up the story, and Dean Howard doesn’t want to take any chances this year. 

Howard went as far as creating a detailed checklist for students:

Blackface, for those who do not know, or do not remember involves the

darkening [of] one’s skin with polish, paint or some other substance with the

goal of impersonating a person of African descent-[it] has been a recurring

practice over the past several generations.

• Wearing a funny costume? Is the humor based on “making fun” of real people, human traits or cultures?

• Wearing a historical costume? If this costume is meant to be

historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural

inaccuracies?

• Wearing a ‘cultural’ costume? Does this costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?

• Could someone take offense with your costume and why?

Howard closed the letter by reminding students blackface costumes are not “isolated expressions” that only happen during Halloween. “In fact,

instances of blackface have often disrupted college campuses (e.g. ‘ghetto parties’, ‘pimps and hos’ and ‘gangsta’ parties etc.) all over

the nation,” he wrote. 

Howard co-authored the e-mail with Associated Student Government

President Claire Lew; SESP senior Candise Hill, president of Promote

360, “an organization aimed at improving minority student experiences;”

and Theo Greene and Patrick Ryan, Graduate Leadership Council chair and

assistant chair, respectively. Read the full e-mail below.


Dean Howard’s message is published in it’s entirety below:

From: Burgwell J. Howard
Date: Tue, Oct 26, 2010 at 1:00 AM
Subject: Halloween Choices and the Northwestern Communty

To members of the Northwestern community:

The end of October is quickly approaching, and along with the falling

leaves and cooler nights come the Halloween celebrations on our campus

and in our community. These celebrations provide opportunities for

students to socialize as well as make positive contributions to our

community and the Evanston community as a whole. Two notable examples of

the positive roles students play include: ‘Project Pumpkin’

www.ncdcnorthwestern.org/ sponsored by NCDC and ‘Project Scare’

www.facebook.com/group.php sponsored by SAE Fraternity and Alpha Phi

Sorority.

However, Halloween is unfortunately a time when the normal

thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most NU students can be forgotten and

some poor decisions are made. Last year our community came together in a

forum

(www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/05/blackface-northwestern-un_n_347745.html)

to talk about the fallout from some widely publicized Halloween

costumes and the history behind ‘blackface’, and why many feel this is

so offensive. Blackface, for those who do not know, or do not remember

involves the darkening one’s skin with polish, paint or some other

substance with the goal of impersonating a person of African descent-has

been a recurring practice over the past several generations. Blackface

costumes, particularly during Halloween are not isolated expressions. In

fact, instances of blackface have often disrupted college campuses

(e.g. “ghetto parties”, “pimps and hos” and “gangsta” parties etc.) all

over the nation, and images of students parading in blackface are

documented as far back as the early twentieth century. (For those who

were not here or unable to attend the forum we would suggest that you do

a quick search on Blackface & Northwestern to get caught up on the

discussion.)

The culturally unaware or insensitive choices people have made in the

past have not just been directed one cultural group, but have often

impacted religious beliefs, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims

etc.. In many cases the student wearing the costume has not intended to

offend, but their actions or lack of forethought have sent a far greater

message than any apology could after the fact…

So, if you are planning to dress-up for Halloween, or will be

attending any social gatherings planned for that weekend, please ask

yourself these questions before deciding upon your costume choice:

• Wearing a funny costume? Is the humor based on “making fun” of real people, human traits or cultures?

• Wearing a historical costume? If this costume is meant to be

historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural

inaccuracies?

• Wearing a ‘cultural’ costume? Does this costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or sterotypes?

• Could someone take offense with your costume and why?

Northwestern is a community that values free expression as well as

inclusivity. And while students, graduate and undergraduate, have the

right to express themselves, we would hope that people would actively

avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or

disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on

race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression.

We are oNe Northwestern, and the actions of one effect us all…, so

in whatever fashion you choose to participate in Halloween activities,

we encourage everyone to be safe and thoughtful during your celebration.

Sincerely,

Burgwell Howard — Dean of Students
Claire Lew — Associated Student Government, President
Candise Hill — Promote 360, President
Theo Greene and Patrick Ryan — Graduate Leadership Council, Chair & Asst. Chair