Southern Utah University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion has launched a “My Culture is not a Costume” campaign. The campaign includes a series of SUU students holding photos of different racial and ethnic outfits in order to raise awareness of culturally insensitive costumes. On Oct. 20, the images were posted online and around SUU’s campus.
Maria Martinez , director of the Center for Diversity, recognized the national conversation about cultural appropriation and wanted to start a dialogue at SUU. According to Martinez, by wearing a costume that supports stereotypes or cultural fallacies, one is reducing that culture to a caricature.
“One of the goals of the CDI is to validate people’s identities and cultures making them feel safe and valued on campus,” said Martinez. “We don’t want to perpetuate the culturally inaccurate stereotype, and I think this campaign gives the underrepresented and marginalized students a voice to speak out.”
Four SUU students participated in the ad campaign representing unique and distinct cultures; African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Polynesian.
“I’m proud to be on this poster,” said Sunny Sims, a junior political science and criminal justice major from Las Vegas who is holding a photo of someone dressed in blackface for Halloween. “Representing an entire race as a Halloween costume is wrong and offensive. You are turning what I look like into a joke and mocking historical oppression. This is an important conversation to have not only during Halloween but all year.”
“You generalize my whole culture and heritage when you dress-up like an ‘amigo’ and shout in broken Spanish,” said Erick Peña, a freshman studying exercise science. “People should become aware of the pain this causes.”
The CDI provides educational programming and resources for the campus community with the goal to reduce racism and empower all students to feel confident and valued in the classroom, community, and in life beyond the college. The CDI is dedicated to cultivating a campus climate in which the spirit of inclusivity prevails and diversity is explored and celebrated in its many forms.
“It’s our job in the CDI to represent the underrepresented groups on campus,” said Christopher Mendoza, CDI coordinator. “This is an ongoing process, but I think it starts with having a dialogue on how we can appreciate someone’s culture without disrespecting it.”
Martinez and Mendoza said that they hope the campaign prompts people to do more research, ask questions, and learn “correct” and appropriate cultural terminology with the hope to bridge the gap from narrow-minded stereotypes to appropriate cultural respect and awareness.