Punishment doesn’t help students learn crucial lessons


What not to wear: Should universities punish students for offensive Halloween garb?



During Halloween, there’s a likely chance you ran into someone in a Halloween costume that made you wonder, “What in the world are you thinking?”

In today’s day and age, your snap judgment and a critical social media post could quickly become a movement that reveals cultural insensitivities and disregards for religions, races and beliefs. This happens, perhaps most often, on college campuses.

Because universities have had to account for outrage on social media, some, like North Carolina State University, have started to produce a Halloween costume guide for making last weekend an inclusive experience.

They recommend students do things such as ask themselves “Would your only defense of a costume be, ‘Relax, it’s just a costume?’” or “Would you want to see a picture of yourself in your costume all over the Internet?”

But taking this a step further, what happens when universities start punishing costume-wearers who don’t adhere to suggestions?

For many college students, the hallmark of the college experience is just as much learning to think as an individual as it is exploring what it means to make your own decisions.

True, someday you may regret wearing a costume that has deeper implications than you intended or takes a joke slightly too far, but that is a lesson you may just have to learn on your own terms.

While universities can promote students to act in thoughtful ways, punishment doesn’t leave much room for learning how to deal with issues that offend us.

In a place where free speech means you are able to express your own beliefs, even if they are offensive, we must learn to argue our own opinions effectively while also realizing we live in a marketplace of ideas.

If universities are quick to suppress every offensive action, they fail to teach students how to deal with unsettling topics that won’t end in college.

Although a lot of focus is placed on the negative, the majority of students are most likely aware of how certain costumes reinforce cultural stereotypes. Most students probably know that dressing as a creepy clown, a suicide bomber, Nazi or in a type of religious dress that mocks a certain belief system would cause tension and mixed reactions.

But by punishing students, universities may soon be entering the territory of protecting students from being confronted with controversy.

School censorship is an issue that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. This debate will continue to trigger discussion any time a school invites a speaker that takes a stand on a controversial topic or who has a history of making offensive comments.

Monitoring Halloween costumes may just be the beginning of universities taking a bigger stance on the actions of their students.

Even if we progressed in showing sensitivities towards others, there will always be that one student who doesn’t think twice about what their costume could represent.

Nonetheless, punishment isn’t the solution in a place that is rooted in learning and growing.

Erin Mairose is a senior journalism and business/communications major from Kimball, S.D.

Blog at WordPress.com.

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