The Collegian
Monday, March 27, 2023

MARGINS | Costumes and caricatures: symptoms of endemic campus ignorance

<p><em>Graphic by The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.   

As many would already be aware, the universal campus tradition of “Halloweekend” at the University of Richmond has been a highly contested topic of conversation recently from offensive costuming and social media antics. Unfortunately, I was one of the people who saw these costumes in person at the Heilman Dining Center. While I was leaving the area, I noticed a peculiar group of white men wearing stereotypical costumes with ponchos and sombreros. I had an instant flashback to the previous year, when my friend and I noticed a white student wearing a dashiki, a colorful West African garment. We confronted him promptly and he feigned ignorance, unaware of the unlucky circumstance of him wearing West African dress on Halloween Day. However, on this occasion, I said nothing. I regret this decision, but I am proud to hear that another group of students did so in my place. 

At the very least, the costumes were a cheap joke, and at its worst, they were minstrelsy. As a witness to them entering the dining hall, I saw how proud they were and how confidently they navigated the space around them. Dressing up as a caricature of a culture shows how little white students here respect the diversity of their peers. I recognized the severity of the situation at first glance, yet it seems a good portion of campus still does not — and it should come into no question which demographic that is. In the aftermath of the weekend, I overheard a conversation between two white girls about the controversies, playing them down and trying to victimize the perpetrators in the midst of “overreaction.” Ignorance is endemic to this campus, and these costumes and conversations are only symptoms. If these students refuse to condemn basic, simple forms of racism such as cultural appropriation, how can we trust them to be on the side of students of color when something inevitably worse happens? 

On a campus where we are isolated from the city of Richmond, surrounded by mansions and gates, and the few faces that look like us students of color mostly work in low-paying service positions, space is more important than ever for us. This campus is a white pressure chamber, and we can either diminish our mental health by trying to resist it, or we can let it devour us. Both options end in the same result. This is the burden that Black and other students of color have to live with, and requesting white students to not minstrelize us in the space we share is the least that we could be demanding from them. 

Contact contributor Ryan Doherty at ryan.doherty1@richmond.edu.

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