The high prevalence of college parties that draw themes from cultural identities or gender stereotypes is indicative of a culture lacking insight into the problematic and unethical messages that these themes perpetuate.
Offensive party themes are nothing new on college campuses. On Feb. 6 students at Duke University protested a fraternity party called “Kappa Sigma Asian Prime” whose online invitation featured members of the fraternity dressed in Asian-stereotype costumes. According to ABC News, the original invitation, obtained by Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, featured racist language, including the line, “Herro Nice Duke Peopre.”
Cinco de Mayo parties that encourage attendees to grow mustaches and wear sombreros or “Cowboys and Indians” parties that ask students to wear Native American garb feed off of cultural appropriation and are symptomatic of a dominant white culture that views these items of clothing as costumes that can be borrowed and shed freely. It’s party themes like these that prove to be tasteless and problematic in that they reduce entire populations to hateful stereotypes.
Cultural appropriation allows dominant cultures to assert their superior positioning over minority cultures by making a mockery of long-standing traditions. Even worse, tying feathers in one’s hair to appear like a Native American or wearing a geisha costume to appear Japanese signifies a reduction of a culture’s tradition into a single clichéd signifier.
Closer to home, in October 2007 Zeta Beta Xi fraternity brothers at Geneseo dressed in blackface during a Halloween party. Photos of the students went viral, sparking controversy and public backlash. In response to the controversy, three students issued an apology letter claiming they’d dressed up with “no intention of offending anyone or perpetuating any racial stereotypes.”
Whether or not these students intended to offend people, partaking in parties with racist or sexist themes shows a grave lack of judgment and an inability to think critically about the cultural and societal implications of their actions. Attendance at a party that essentializes minority cultures is participation in something that may run directly contrary to one’s morals.
In a similar vein, to attend a “CEOs and Corporate Hos” party continues in the tradition of objectifying women while celebrating workplace environments that place men above women. And themes like “Pigtails and Pedophiles” go one step further in that they draw their frivolity from the perpetuation of rape culture and the sexualizing of young children.
Both parties that appropriate entire cultures and ones that feed off of toxic gender stereotypes reflect a dominant culture that fails to see its privilege when taking part in reductive cultural roles. Minority groups have to deal with being stereotyped on a daily basis. When those stereotypes are used as fodder for a party, it trivializes the experience of belonging to a marginalized group.