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Halloween is almost upon us, which means culture warriors across the country are preparing themselves for the annual “War on Christmas” back and forth among those who decry efforts to take the religiosity out of the holiday, those, like Jon Stewart, who make fun of them for it, and those who think the war on Christmas may in fact be a good thing.
But in our eagerness to ignore Thanksgiving (as usual) and jump right to Christmas, we may be missing a great #WarOnHalloween culture war moment (since it’s a cultural moment in 2013, it must henceforth be referred to solely through Twitter hashtags).
At the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), we’ve become accustomed to yearly campus kerfuffles over “insensitive” Halloween costumes. My favorite over the years comes from Syracuse University, which has twice topped our list of worst schools for freedom of speech. In 2010, Department of Public Safety Chief Anthony Callisto warned students, “If we detect that there’s a person with an offensive costume, we’d likely require them to remove it, and we would file a judicial complaint…There are costumes that could be very offensive to members of protected class communities.” There are so many things wrong—and creepy—about the thought of campus police demanding that students immediately remove their sexy Pocahontas costumes, but only some of them are related to free speech.
As my colleague Samantha Harris pointed out on FIRE’s blog yesterday, “both the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and the University of Colorado have sent campus-wide emails cautioning their student bodies against wearing insensitive costumes.” FIRE is waiting to see if these warnings will result in action against students who wear offensive or provocative costumes.
Another good candidate for #WarOnBLANK might be #WarOnAlphabets, as seen in the video below that FIRE released today about Dixie State University in Utah, which shifted the fight against sororities and fraternities into “Ludicrous Speed” by retroactively inserting into the student group bylaws a rule against Greek letters in club names in order to stop a group of college women from starting a club called Phi Beta Pi. You read that right: They banned the use of an alphabet.
Of course, #WarOnGreeks has been afoot for a long time on campuses, with the most notable ongoing fight taking place at Trinity College in Connecticut. But Dixie State certainly wins the award for most absurd anti-sorority restriction.
You also couldn’t go wrong with longer, yet classic, hashtags like #WarOnCampusSpeech or #WarOnDiscourse. Those might be dominated today by talk of Brown University and Hampshire College. At Brown, students resorted to mob censorship to drown out a speech by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, while Hampshire College in Massachusetts disinvited an Afrobeat band after some students alleged the band was “too white.” (More on Hampshire College tomorrow.)
But if you insist on sticking with the old #WarOnChristmas meme, you could do worse than start with this column by FIRE senior VP Robert Shibley from last Christmas “College to Student Group: No Selling Christmas Trees, Only ‘Holiday’ Trees.” Because I’m sure that otherwise the students would never know what a decorated pine tree in December could possibly mean.