After Mailé Nguyen spent time in Japan, she began to notice people during Halloween wearing costumes that inaccurately depicted geishas, which are highly respected female entertainers.
"Most of the costumes are nothing like the actual clothing that people wear," Nguyen, a junior studying theater, said.
With Halloween right around the corner, many people are flocking to costume stores, but some don’t take into account the potential implications of their choice of costume. Many stores sell costumes that appropriate cultures, which can be offensive to the members of those cultures.
Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, strategic director for diversity and inclusion and multicultural programs and initiatives at the Multicultural Center, said the only reason stores still sell racially offensive costumes is because “it’s purely economic."
Nguyen, president of Students Teaching About Racism in Society, believes stores still sell the offensive costumes because “we live in a capitalist society so they want to make as much money as they can.”
Nguyen put up posters around campus Sunday with the help of Craig Jenkins, the vice president of S.T.A.R.S. The group focuses on starting a discussion about racial issues, and during the Halloween season the group hangs up posters that illustrate the negative impact of offensive costumes.
The poster campaign called “We’re a Culture Not a Costume” has been going on since 2011. Each poster has an example of culturally appropriated costumes, next to member of that culture.
S.T.A.R.S. distributes posters all around the U.S., as well as in Canada and New Zealand.
Nguyen joined S.T.A.R.S. because she feels strongly about being an activist for racial issues.
“It was something I definitely wanted to get behind and do as much as I can,” Nguyen said.
Jenkins, a sophomore studying women’s, gender and sexuality studies said he joined S.T.A.R.S. because he wanted to “broaden (his) horizons."
Chunnu-Brayda said the main defense of those dressing in a racially insensitive costume is that “it’s just Halloween” and “it’s about fun."
Nguyen said people think they are following a trend but those costumes do not accurately reflect the culture.
There are gray areas of cultural appropriation in terms of what can be considered offensive. Jenkins said it becomes complicated when someone is trying to dress up as a character who is another race.
“Even with those characters, there are still stereotypes,” Jenkins said.
In addition, some people do not know what cultural appropriation means, Chunnu-Brayda said.
“There are people who do not know or understand,” Chunnu-Brayda said. “They have been doing it all their lives.”
Chunnu-Brayda said doing research online or asking other people their opinions can help someone avoid choosing an offensive costume to wear.
“There are so many options for Halloween that you could be whatever you want to be,” Nguyen said. “You could be something better and cooler.”
During S.T.A.R.S. meetings, members focus on the perspectives of others rather than solely thinking of their own culture, Nguyen said.
“Do some of the research behind the stereotypes behind the history of those costumes. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Jenkins said about what he suggests people do to avoid cultural appropriation in a costume.
Nguyen said stereotypical costumes show a lack of thought or consideration for people's cultures.
“It’s like they kind of just want to enforce these stereotypes that are already there,” Nguyen said.