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Monday, October 16, 2017

Policing Cultural Appropriation Does College Students No Favors

Dealing with seeing things that offend you is a vital life lesson that we're withholding from college students when we micro-manage Halloween costumes.

As Halloween draws near, freshman students at college campuses across the nation prepare for their first college holiday. The excitement and uncertainty grow as new students figure out how to make the most of their holiday. However, many of these new students will come to terms with an issue they would never have thought to consider, as they costume shop and make weekend plans. The issue of cultural appropriation.

Instead of freely displaying whichever costume they find to be creative, scary, or just plain silly, students will be subjected to lectures about how “culture” is not a costume. At my university, posters were strewn across residential halls and other campus buildings reminding students to be mindful of the possibility that their costume may offend someone. These posters were accompanied by a presentation at one of the main buildings reminding students to be wary of appropriating another culture. Other campuses have gone so far as to cancel extracurricular activities and scrutinize professors who attempt share an opposing voice towards cultural appropriation.

There is no such thing as a culture that is not partially appropriated. Not to say that these costumes are not offensive to certain individuals. However, this Orwellian obsession over how people dress up for one or two days out of the year invokes far more harm than a costume ever could. While universities may be able to shield students from behavior they may or may not find offensive during their time in college, they cannot shield them from the reality they face once the cap and gown come off. Simply put, this is the inflation of issues which pale in comparison to the harsh realities of the real world.

Aside from crippling student debt, inflation, taxes, and employers dissatisfied with millennial attitudes, students will witness offensive material on a daily basis. Without the necessary transition to adulthood, students will be unable to adjust properly. If students cannot handle seeing a native American headdress or Mexican sombrero, how will they deal with the challenges of a political corporate environment?

And there is a deeper point. There is no such thing as a culture that is not partially appropriated. There is no pure anything in culture. The search for such a thing is not only fruitless; it tempts one to try to create it via coercion and compulsion. Freedom to associate, in contrast, means the right to learn, emulate, and recreate–which is to say, to appropriate.

What about that which offends? As a college student in Chicago who firmly supports free markets and free speech, I witness things every day which offend and frustrate me. However, living in such an environment has forced me to evaluate my own beliefs and better understand the reasoning behind those with whom I disagree.

Observing the growing concern of cultural appropriation brings to mind the foresight of economist Henry Hazlitt:

The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Although this quote was directed towards economic actions, the core of the philosophy is universal. Sheltering students in the present does not take the long-term effects into account. Even with the best of intentions, universities must amend their priorities to better prepare students for adulthood.

  • Sean McBride is a student at DePaul University with a passion for free markets and property rights.