We have another Halloween costume controversy. Just yesterday we discussed the order of the College of Charleston for students to take mandatory diversity training for dressing as Mexicans and border police. Now fourteen staff at an Idaho primary school have been put on administrative leave for dressing up as a border wall and Mexicans. Superintendent Josh Middleton has declared the costumes to be “insensitive” and “inappropriate” costumes. The costume competition was billed as featuring “the most stereotypical outfits.”
Seven staff from the Middleton Heights Elementary School dressed as characters like the Statue of Liberty and an American eagle while holding a cardboard wall with “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” on it. Others wore sombreros and fake mustaches.
I recently wrote about the growing controversy over Halloween costumes on campuses and beyond over allegations of cultural appropriation. Various colleges have cracked down on costumes deemed inappropriate or insulting or culturally appropriating. There is little consideration of the free speech concerns over such regulations or the differing views of cultural appropriations theories. However, this was not a case of staffs dressing inappropriately in their private lives. This was part of an after-school “team-building activity” among the teachers.
The offensive combination is obvious, though the case again raises the question of a clear standard. Would it have been permissible to go simply as the Wall ? The concern is that teachers and students have to comply with an ill-defined standard, particularly when some costumes could have free speech elements of expression.