FARI faces Halloween controversy

Geneseo's Center for Community, to addressing the highly-publicized incidents of blackface that occurred on Halloween of fall 2007, is encouraging students to "show their true faces," this year when choosing a costume.

Last year, images of Geneseo students dressed in blackface brought about a protest by the group Fighting Against Racial Injustice, a condemnation from President Christopher Dahl, and a comprehensive teach-in that addressed different types of discrimination on campus. The students could not be punished under protections of free expression, but several members of the fraternity Zeta Beta Xi offered public apologies.

Blackface, a style of theatrical makeup dating back to the 1830s, which perpetuated racist images, attitudes and perceptions, has become an issue at many college campuses within the last several years.

Dean of Students Lenny Sancilio said the "show your true face" posters, which can be found in most campus buildings and residence halls, were designed to, "remind the current students of some of the things that we learned last year."

The posters are modeled off a design created by national Greek organizations at an Interfraternity Conference Campaign several years ago and include guidelines from Tolerance.org. The Center for Community adapted the design to make it relevant to the Geneseo community and added pictures of Geneseo students.

"We're not trying to tell people what to wear … we're trying to get people to be intentional in the costumes that they select," said Sancilio.

On Tuesday evening, Fighting Against Racial Injustice hosted a forum titled "Building a Safe and Welcoming Community" to address the issues related to blackface and other potentially offensive costumes. Over 80 students attended the event where FARI discussed the history of blackface and screened an original documentary that focused on last year's events.

FARI co-founder and fifth-year student Cortez Jones said the group's intention is not to point fingers at those who dressed in blackface but to make sure that students are properly educated about diversity so that no feelings are hurt unintentionally.

Faculty, staff and students were invited to speak about the issue. School of the Arts professor Randy Kaplan spoke about the history of blackface and yellowface, where Caucasians appear as Asians, and called on students to "demand that people be represented fairly."

"You have the potential to make a significant difference in the world," said FARI advisor Ellen Kintz. "The world needs your assistance."

FARI co-founder and senior Scott Snowden said he hoped that students would "think about [the issues]" and educate their friends and families. He said that the program was designed to raise awareness about diversity and ways in which it is threatened.

"FARI is not just about black issues and blackface; we're trying to educate the community about issues that affect this campus," Snowden said.

Senior Josh Stoll said he does not expect to see any blackface this Halloween. "Those kids were basically shunned off campus," he said, referring to the fraternity members who dressed as black rappers last year.

"People will probably make sure not to do anything that will be construed as offensive," agreed sophomore Justin Christy.

"To me, it wasn't that big of a deal to begin with," said sophomore Jon Brotsch. He cited the protections of freedom of speech and said that if blackface does occur again, it will not be as prominent an issue as it was last year.