Things That Matter

Students From Northern Arizona University Have Gone Viral For Their Wildly Offensive Halloween Costumes

Halloween is that time of year when adults are able to shed their inhibitions and experience the same costumed fun and excitement they did as kids. Unfortunately, some take this holiday to inappropriate and hurtful places with their costumes. It seems that no matter how much attention is brought to this problem, we inevitably experience it year after year. Rather than go as their favorite fictional character, we see far too many people dressed in customs that promote cultural appropriation or that are inspired by offensive jokes.

Sure enough, before Halloween was even over, Twitter exposed one instance of this disappointing costume trend.

Twitter / @groovyk8

On October 29th, Katie Stiff shared a set of pictures on her personal Twitter account that she saw on Instagram. The photos show a group of five young adults dressed in scruffy clothing and dirty faces, carrying various signs. One such sign reads, “Immigrant mother of 10 ⁠— anything helps!” The others advertise a pregnant 16-year-old, a veteran with cancer, a college drop out and a recovering alcoholic. It’s clear from their costumes and the content of their cardboard signs that the group is dressed up as negative portrayals of homeless people. 

The offensive photos originated from the account of a freshman student at Northern Arizona University. Stiff, who is a recent graduate of the university, saw the post on October 28th. According to an interview with the Phoenix News Times, she first thought that the costumes were a form of protest — a commentary on how society views marginalized and low-income people. 

Stiff reached out to the person responsible for originally posting these pictures and asked what the meaning behind their costumes was.

Twitter / @lilythetigerr

In screenshots provided to the Phoenix News Times, the NAU freshman responded to Stiff’s inquiry by saying that the controversial looks were “actually just last-minute costumes for a party.” Hoping to facilitate a conversation, Stiff responded to the comment, “Yikes…I’m sure harm wasn’t your intention, but I would definitely reflect on how this could present as a lack of regard for human suffering.”

When Stiff didn’t receive further comment from the college freshman or any of the other adults tagged in the pictures, she decided to take the images to Twitter. 

Twitter/ @Tuesday_elias

Though Stiff’s Twitter account only had about 100 followers at the time, the post quickly went viral. It now has nearly 8K retweets and 17K likes. Speaking to the Phoenix News Times, Stiff explained why she feels costumes like these are so hurtful and offensive to so many. 

“It’s the collective outrage,” she shared. “It was hard to see how hurt people were by it and see comments like ‘this made me cry,’ or ‘this made me sick to my stomach.’ I thought by 2019 we’d be to the point where people weren’t wearing offensive costumes like this. Wearing these things that inherently target underprivileged people, veterans, immigrants, young mothers, it’s not okay. It’s not just a costume. It’s a statement.”

Twitter had several issues with the costumes and was quick to voice them.

Twitter / @Cartersmommi_

Many comments pointed out that it typically isn’t immigrants who are seen panhandling or begging for money. While there’s no shame in these actions, they are very looked down upon. Traditionally, immigrants hustle to find employment ⁠— working several jobs at a time ⁠— both providing for their families and helping to dismantle the negative stigma around migrants. 

Others expressed that these costumes could have worked ⁠— had they actually been meant as a type of protest. 

Twitter / @Bary_d19

This tweet suggested that the group should have collected money instead of candy and donated the funds to a local shelter or another worthy cause. Had these costumes been a form of protest, they would have made a powerful statement. Immigrants, veterans, college students, young mothers and those with chronic diseases are all marginalized groups that are condemned for supposedly not adding value to our society. Bringing attention to that via their costumes would have granted them props. Instead, the group thought it was clever to support stereotypes at the expense of others. 

It didn’t take long for Northern Arizona University to issue a statement concerning these costumes and the viral response to them. 

Twitter / @NAU

NAU President, Rita Cheng, responded to Stiff’s initial post by issuing a comment on the nature of the costumes. 

“The recent post by NAU students has been taken seriously,” she tweeted. “We involved the Dean of Students & Office of Inclusion. The students recognize the seriousness of their actions & apologized. NAU values & supports free speech. Speech demeaning to others does not represent our values.”

The official NAU Twitter account retweeted Cheng’s statement and double-downed on their commitment to free speech but not speech that is demeaning and disrespectful. 

As of now, it doesn’t seem that the students will be held responsible by the school for their offensive costuming. Be that as it may, it’s still our responsibility to call out racism and classism where we see it. If major institutions won’t punish this behavior, social media shaming is the best way to continue the conversation.

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