FLASHBACK FRIDAY: What’re YOU Gonna be for Halloween? You Might Think Twice After Reading This…

Halloween should be a time for carefree fun and expression, but some common costumes perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes. And that’s not good for our Cultural Wellness.

Wait…WHA–? Cultural wellness…what in the world?

At Student Wellness, we believe wellness has multiple dimensions, and one of those dimensions is Cultural Wellness, which involves understanding diverse backgrounds while creating safe, inclusive spaces for all to feel welcome. Research shows that marginalized populations experience higher rates of stress and stress-related health problems, even when we control for factors like socio-economic status and education level. Much of this stress can be linked to repeated, often everyday, experiences of discrimination or bias, like seeing one’s group made fun of in a costume.

crowd on franklin street during Halloween
“crowd on franklin street.” Selena N. B. H. Flickr Creative Commons.

Ok, so what does this have to do with Halloween?

The DTH recently touched on this in an article about costume racism. Halloween costumes that promote racial and ethnic stereotypes make fun of people who are already marginalized. For example, Native Americans make up 2% of the incoming class of UNC first years, and their numbers have declined 33% over the last 4 years at UNC, and yet Native American costumes are an ever-popular choice for Halloween in Chapel Hill. But sporting that “Sexy Pocahontas” costume trivializes the many rich and varied cultural traditions of Native Americans, not to mention the centuries of forced migration and genocide they have endured. Check out this video made by Native students at UNC about their experience. 

But, it’s HALLOWEEN! It’s all just a joke…aren’t people being TOO sensitive?

It can be very frustrating to always feel in fear of offending someone, especially when it was not intended. And there aren’t hard and fast rules; what offends one person may seem harmless to another. But just because someone has good intentions does not automatically make the impact harmless. Recently, a good friend of mine made a passing comment about my body shape that upset me. I confronted her about it after it had been on my mind all day. She could have blown me off and said I was being “too sensitive.” And then we would have fought and I would have felt even worse, and maybe I would have avoided her after that. She didn’t do that. Instead, she validated my feelings, and she apologized for saying what she said. I knew she never meant to hurt me. But what she said still hurt. She owned it and she apologized and agreed not to make the comment again. And VOILÀ! We are back to hanging out and watching bad TV together.

word "Empathy" in stonework on a bench
“Empathy.” Glenda Sims. Flickr Creative Commons.

Regardless of intent, our actions and words impact other people, and recognizing that impact can improve our relationships. Respecting other identities allows people to feel welcomed and heard—just like my friend made me feel when I confronted her. We know that certain Halloween costumes offend marginalized groups. Not meaning any harm, or dressing in these costumes “all in good fun” will not change the impact a costume has on that group. So, why not choose a Halloween costume that speaks to inclusion rather than stereotypes? Find out more about avoiding offensive costumes here and here. And check out some of our multicultural resources on campus to improve your own Cultural Wellness!

Plan for a Safe Halloween: Be an ACTive Bystander!

Make a plan:

  • Before Halloween (like, TODAY!) talk with your friends about getting to and from Halloween parties and events how you will get around and how you will get home, and how you will keep tabs on each other throughout the night so no one gets left behind.
  • Account for all people in your group of friends when you go out and when you head home. Staying with friends throughout the night will help ensure that everyone is safe and having a good time!
  • Offer to watch your friends’ drinks (alcoholic or not) when they leave the table.

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Make it a night to remember:

  • Drink water!
  • Consider the weather when you are designing your costume – be sure to dress warmly and remind your friends as well!
  • Activities like pre-gaming raise BAC (blood alcohol content, a measure of the amount of alcohol in your body) and make it more likely for a person to pass out or black out.  Talk to your friends about risk reduction strategies if they are planning to drink. Some common strategies among UNC students are: eating before drinking, avoiding shots, alternating alcoholic drinks with water, setting a pacing limit (e.g. 1 drink per hour), or an overall drink limit for the night.  For more ideas, check out this blog post.

Ask for Help:

  • Familiarize yourself with Halloween-specific resources and guidelines like the Town of Chapel Hill Guidelines, Parking Information from Public Safety
  • If someone is experiencing signs of alcohol poisoning or other injury, call 911 for medical help.
  • If you see potentially violent (physical or sexual) situation, call 911 for help!
  • If you or someone you know is experiencing distress, find one of the many uniformed police officers that will be on hand for the event. Their main goal is to keep everyone safe. If you can’t find someone in person, call 911.
  • Keep in mind NC’s new Good Samaritan Law: If you seek medical help on behalf of someone with alcohol poisoning, you will be exempt from certain underage alcohol possession charges. In other words, they cannot ticket you with underage possession or consumption of alcohol if you are you seeking medical attention on behalf of someone who may have alcohol poisoning.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable contacting police, look for volunteers from Student Affairs. They’ll be walking around in pairs to assist students in need of support. They can connect you to emergency or support services.
  • When things don’t go as planned, contact other resources that night or the next day for support for yourself or your friends.

Have a safe and fun Halloween!  

4 Things You Need to Know on Halloween

Ahh, Halloween. As a kid, it was a time to prepare a costume, carve a pumpkin, gather with friends and family, and have a wholesome night of fun dedicated to obtaining and consuming too much candy. For adults, Halloween is still about consuming too much. But for some, it’s alcohol causing the tummy aches.

There are many ways to celebrate Halloween without alcohol present: Have a costume competition with some friends, bake up some tasty Halloween-themed treats, have a scary movie marathon, or plot an elaborate way to scare the crap out of your roommate. But if you choose to have an adult beverage to celebrate Halloween this evening, make sure you do these 4 easy things to stay safe and avoid tummy aches.

  1. Eat a meal before you start drinking, and make sure you have plenty of water before and during drinking. Eating a meal beforehand helps slow down the effects of alcohol and will allow you to make safer decisions all night. And alcohol is a diuretic, which means it dehydrates you, so it is important to drink water all night. Also, switching between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages is a good way to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
  2. Know how much you are drinking. Don’t drink from communal punch bowls, trashcans, etc. as you have no way of knowing how much alcohol is in there and how it will affect you. Also, the taste of the alcohol is easily masked, so don’t rely on how strong the punch tastes. Taking back control over how much alcohol you are consuming by making your own drinks.
  3. Use the buddy system. Don’t be afraid to speak up or take action if there is something going on that you or your friends are uncomfortable with. Everyone is entitled to having a good time on Halloween, and that starts with feeling safe. Keeping an eye on each other can help get you there.
  4. Have an exit strategy. Some of the most dangerous situations arise late in the night, when people have had too much alcohol to make good decisions. Set a limit for yourself ahead of time, because it’s hard to know when to stop once you have started. So decide ahead of time when you are heading home, and have plans in place to get home safe. Obviously, don’t get into a car when the driver has been drinking. Have a way to get a cab, take a bus, or call a sober friend as a backup.

With these things in mind, have a happy, healthy, safe Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

In Park Elementary School, Halloween was the best.  Mrs. DiGiovani was a pioneering music teacher and encouraged physical activity all the time in music class.  Mrs. D, as we called her since DiGiovani was a little too much to tackle in 1st grade, would have us act out Danse Macabre every Halloween.  We would start lying on the floor, rise up at the appropriate moment and dance like skeletons for 6 and a half minutes (did time go faster as a kid?), and then go back to “sleep” when the sun came back up.

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