Editor's note: This is part of our weekly Point/Counterpoint series. To view the opposing viewpoint, click here.
It’s that time of year again, y’all! Despite the roughly estimated two days of fall Texans actually experience, we nevertheless welcome the season with such excitement and abandon that an outsider might be forced to conclude – oh, I don’t know – that there is an actual shift in temperature occurring. This includes everything from sweet yet optimistic naiveté about our own Southern weather (girls in knee-high boots, I’m looking at you!) to the insistence on choking down inappropriately hot seasonal drinks. It means hay rides and leaf puns and dressing up for the inevitable onslaught of Halloween costume parties — and actually, this is where a few of our well-intentioned friends have run into some problems.
In recent years, the University has been under scrutiny regarding the themed parties of some student organizations. And while these are certainly not limited to October, one could argue that these events certainly reach their peak around this time of year and receive a heightened amount of flak from students as a result. “Cultural sensitivity” — or lack thereof — has made headlines several times within the last year as organizations struggle to cultivate a delicate balance. How far is too far? One organization’s fiesta-themed party yielded a number of traditional and less overtly offensive costumes — sombreros, Mexican dresses and the like — while others, donning shirts that read “Border Patrol,” certainly seemed to go too far.
The offenders rightly apologized and the incident has been forgotten by many. Student organizations have since made every effort to ensure party themes are as inoffensive and inviting as possible — as they should be. Every student on campus has the right to feel safe and free from stigma under a University-wide system of nondiscrimination. Every student deserves to study at a school where his or her fundamental beliefs and culture are respected. The University values fundamental principles such as integrity, and as students, we should strive to conduct ourselves by these same ideals — regardless of whether or not our behavior gets “written up” in the Texan.
But couldn’t the argument also be made in the opposite direction? While a student’s right to don his or her costume of choice certainly pales in comparison to one’s fundamental right to feel safe and free from slander— I would argue that at times, elements of this issue have taken on a somewhat viral nature, and occasionally even seem to compromise potential for a more inclusive student body as a result. Those who quickly point fingers at offending groups, akin to yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre, often have a misconstrued and uninformed idea of the event — or intentions of the student organization — before they take to the Internet in a scathing counter-rant. It’s a system where no one wins, one that propagates the boundaries within the student body rather than seeking to overcome them.
It’s easy, and often legitimate, to be offended. Everybody has a right to express themselves, especially in situations where they are being under- or misrepresented. But I would argue that often the potential for mutual understanding is compromised when those who are “offended” fail to look past their anger or strive to inform themselves about the intentions of those who they feel have wronged them. As a result, the element of heightened sensitivity in our culture has snowballed to the point where “heightened” is practically synonymous with “looking for an excuse” to be offended. It has created a system where being offended is the ultimate safe-word, one that gives us power to make others stand down. The rise in social media means with every shared photo, wall post and album, our decisions can be scrutinized by the masses. And while many of us conduct ourselves both on and offline with class, dignity and respect, one can argue that our tendency to overshare often leads to misconstrued intentions as a result.
So this Halloween, let’s aim to be informed, not offended. As organizations strive to better themselves and the behavior of their members, let’s not get lost in hotheaded rhetoric or compromise our reason. Let’s maintain a vigilant understanding of both the broader context of our actions, as well as an informed understanding of campus-wide organizations. As a student body, I think we owe it to both ourselves and the University to do so.
Have a “sensitive,” safe Halloween y’all. Oh, and hook ‘em!
Deppisch is a government senior from League City.