10 Halloween Costumes That Have Been Banned From Schools
Halloween costumes have changed in the last decade, with colleges and middle and grammar schools advising which costumes can—and can't—be worn.
As Halloween approaches, institutions of higher learning across the country are reminding students to ask themselves if their costume might be perceived as racist or offensive. College communications directors cringe when they see social media streams featuring their students, and sometimes college administrators, dressed in blackface, native American costumes, sombreros, and the like, saying they provoke racial tensions on campus. That “disco diva” costume may feel like rockstar-for-a-day role play to the student wearing it, but in their guidelines Wesleyan University advises dreadlocks and afro wigs may be perceived as “mocking representations of an entire culture” or trivializing “human suffering, oppression, and marginalization.” Find out why we wear costumes on Halloween in the first place along with the stories behind 13 other Halloween traditions.
In 2015, Yale University‘s Intercultural Affairs Committee emailed their student body asking students to avoid wearing “culturally unaware and insensitive costumes,” and specifically called out “turbans,” among other elements that might be considered offensive.
The Yale costume advisory also specifically noted a “feathered headdress” (as did the Wesleyan advisory) could be considered cultural appropriation and be offensive to Native Americans.
Certain Disney characters
Female students at the University of Notre Dame were cautioned in a 2016 email to think twice before dressing up as any of the following Disney characters: Moana, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, and the Three Caballeros, because of concerns that they would”reinforce stereotypes.” The email explained: “More than ever, we need to be aware of how our behaviors and decisions impact other people. … Our intentions may be innocent, but the impact could be devastating.”
Students in fraternities and sororities at Tufts University were warned in 2016 by their Greek officials that they would face “serious disciplinary sanctions” for wearing offensive Halloween costumes, including “outfits relating to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence.” This would have ruled out dressing as teen Holocaust victim, Anne Frank, a costume that had been widely marketed online until it drew controversy last year. That costume is still available today, but now it’s marketed as “WWII Evacuee Girl.”
Barring outfits related to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence also rules out dressing up as a Confederate soldier, it should go without saying. Avoid controversy altogether by wearing one of these 12 fun, easy group costume ideas that won’t offend.
Representation/stereotypes of Asian cultures—think “Chinese Gentleman” costume or “Asian Princess” costume—and “Geisha” costumes were explicitly called out by the University of Texas in their 2016 29-point checklist for avoiding offensive costumes. Last year a $50 “Geisha” costume kit drew heat from media outlets for cultural appropriation and perpetuating the notion that geishas were sex workers, The New York Post reported. The costume by Fashion Nova is still available.
Middle and grammar schools also issue guidelines on the kinds of Halloween costumes students can wear. In 2016, the New Haven Public School District in Connecticut banned clown costumes, pending an investigation of four clown-related Instagram posts showing “menacing-looking clowns” with threatening captions, such as “watch out” and “wait and see.” The New Haven ban didn’t just include menacing-looking clowns, however, but all clowns, including Bozo the Clown, Ronald McDonald, and Krusty the Clown—which must have been good news to people with this phobia, who are deathly afraid of clowns.
And weapons of any kind
And of course all schools routinely restrict costumes that include toy weapons, reflecting concern related to school shootings and a desire not to place a “friendly”spin on weapons. As far back as 2006, students at Strathmore Elementary School in Aberdeen, New Jersey were being advised not to accessorize costumes with weapons of any kind. The New York Times noted that the 2007 Halloween Parade at Strathmore “included a devil with no pitchfork,” a Power Ranger with no laser blaster, and a pint-size Batman who’d been advised to leave his utility belt at home. Not sure what to dress up as this year? These are some of our favorite Halloween costumes for families.