BUSU cracking down on offensive Halloween costumes

On Oct. 30, 2014, BUSU held an all-ages costume contest at Isaac’s Bar & Grill. The winner of the contest, and the cash prize, was a group of Brock students wearing blackface makeup who dressed up as the ‘Jamaican Bobsled Team’. The group won the contest, being judged by audience engagement, and as a result, the scandal made national headlines.

Following the incident, previous BUSU President Roland Erman released a statement promising to ensure that an incident would not happen again, and that BUSU would improve their current training program as a preventative measure.

“BUSU will be ensuring that the current workplace safety and harassment training that is presented to our front line staff, including security and bar staff is expanded to training and awareness of equity and human rights issues similar to the training our Full-Time staff receives through the Ontario Human Rights Commission. BUSU will also be reaching out to on-campus partners to help facilitate and to ensure that the expanded training meets the needs of a wide variety of issues. This expansion will see close to 200 students and staff receive additional and diverse training once they are hired at BUSU,” wrote Erman in the official statement.

This September, BUSU has followed up on these promises and created an elaborate training program designed to educate front end employees and staff of the importance of equity and awareness when dealing with sensitive topics like race, gender identity and sexuality.

The presentation was designed by Carole Moss, BUSU’s Ombudsperson, who helps students in grade appeals and with issues of equity at Brock, among other things.

“We created a mandatory Human Rights 101 module for all staff to complete but we also wanted to unpack the complex social issues surrounding race and privilege in a meaningful way,” said Moss. “Our staff were starting to have important conversations about forms of racism and examples of social privilege already and so, we wanted to frame the conversation and dig deeper into these constructs as a team, together. I’m incredibly proud of the genuine attempts of all our staff to reflect personally on their anti-racism framework in order to develop professionally.”

The goals of the training program were simple and could be reduced to five goals overall: to develop self-knowledge, build racial literacy, understand whiteness, identify privilege and to “do good”.

With Halloween quickly approaching and BUSU once again running their Halloween party on Oct. 30, it was important for them to make rules and restrictions clear for students who might be weary about their costumes.

“What we learned quickly from the Blackface incident was that students and staff were out of touch with the socio-historical context of Blackface and why it was a form of racism. A common response in the anti-racism training with staff and students was, ‘I had no idea it was offensive’. Taking the time to create a mindful list of costumes that are appropriating, offensive and racist is important to disseminate to students and staff ahead of time because it can create a bit of reflection and foresight when choosing a costume. We’re hoping to reduce the ‘I had no idea’ and replace it with ‘did you know’ when it comes to Halloween costumes this year. “The list is not exhaustive; it’s the first step in the right direction,” said Moss.

The guidelines set out by BUSU are as outlined in the text box; any student that includes these elements in part, or in whole, in their costume, will not be permitted into Isaac’s Bar & Grill.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 2.04.39 PM

While BUSU is clearly taking the issue seriously, if a student attempts to enter into Isaac’s while wearing an offensive or inappropriate costume, the procedure in place mandates a careful, sensitive approach. If a student violates the restrictions on costumes, they’ll be gently escorted to a place to change out of their costume, so that they can return to their place in line.

“Students make mistakes and an offensive costume is a big mistake. Our goal was to create a protocol that would reduce the chances of students showing up in an offensive costume but if they did, they would be met with an educative approach,” said Moss. “In this case, pulling the student aside discretely, discussing their costume and giving them an opportunity to change is the preferred approach. If they comply, they’d be welcomed in … in the end, it’s hoped that this non-combative approach triggers mindfulness and better decision making.”

Ultimately, sensitivity in choosing a Halloween costume will not only prevent your photo from being on the front page of the National Post, but it will also create a more positive environment for everyone.

“Vetting Halloween costumes isn’t a matter of telling people what to wear,” said Moss. “It’s a matter of paying respect to the stories and experiences of marginalized groups who are depicted in these costumes: their culture, history and lives should never be desecrated, but understood and celebrated. These costumes mock our friends, family members and co-workers. We can do better: that’s what this protocol is all about.”

For any questions or inquiries about whether or not your costume is appropriate, please contact Carole Moss at ombuds@busu.net

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