“This is an opportunity to have FUN and be SPIRITED – it is not an invitation to be hurtful, insensitive, ignorant and/or offensive,” wrote Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, in an email to the student body last Tuesday about dressing appropriately for the upcoming Halloween activities.
In the email, Elliot attached a flowchart to help guide students in choosing Halloween attire. The flowchart touched upon issues such as cultural appropriation and costumes’ sex appeal.
Created by St. Luke’s School, a grade five through 12 school in New Canaan, CT., the flowchart included different questions that could potentially arise from a Halloween costume, such as “Is my costume supposed to be funny?” and “Does my costume represent a culture that is not my own?” Viewers of the flowchart can respond either “yes” or “no” and proceed to the next question.
Elliott’s use of the flowchart sparked discussion on campus and on social media by students and recent alumni. For instance, Alejandra Uría ’15 posted the flowchart on Facebook on Wednesday, garnering over 100 responses from Andover students and alumni. The topic of conversation focused mainly on the ideas of freedom of expression and sexism.
“I think that [the email] was low-key for the females, and how they shouldn’t dress up inappropriately in short tight clothes, but people often dress like that anyways. I think it was really aimed towards the females,” said Melanie Tlasca ’19 in an interview.
“I don’t think it was necessarily aimed at a specific group. If we’re being honest, people of any gender or sexual orientation can do anything that’s on this list that’s not okay. I don’t think it was necessarily aimed at a specific type of person or specific group, or a certain affiliation. I think the email was appropriate, necessary, well-worded and well-put-together. [Elliott] clearly put thought into it before she sent it, and I think it was very well-done – and needed,” said Moyo Oyebode ’18.
Elliott said in an interview with The Phillipian that the intent of her email was to remind students to be thoughtful with their attire as they went into the dance.
“There’s no part of me that’s trying to ‘eek’ any fun out of Halloween, but rather to say I really just want to help kids make good choices so that Saturday night is a fun night and not something that they have regrets or second thoughts about after,” she said.
Elliott continued, “The flowchart that was attached was in no way meant to be directive, and it certainly was not from [Andover]. It was clearly marked as a different school. It’s a school that has a much wider age range of students, so there’s references to younger students that don’t apply to our kids, although I would offer that there are younger kids on campus, whether that’s for Abbotween or [the dance on] Saturday night, just to be thoughtful about our whole community.”
A lot of discussion focused on the flowchart’s use of the phrase “cute and sassy instead of sexy and trashy” with regards to costume choices.
“ ‘Sexy’ is a term that you feel, you’re owning that. That has to do with how you feel about what you’re doing or wearing, as opposed to the idea of looking sexy, which implies that someone else is determining how you look, determining how you’re trying to look. I think that’s a really critical distinction to make. [A] student brought to my attention yesterday her real concern that, in that chart, ‘sexy and trashy’ were coupled together. I think that’s an awesome observation to make and to dig into and think about, and how those two terms can be hugely gendered,” said Elliott.
The flowchart also addressed the danger of cultural appropriation, asking “Does my costume reduce cultural differences to a stereotype?” If viewers respond with a “yes,” the chart proceeds to warn them that their costume might be “xenophobic.”
“I think it was a good way to ensure that no one appropriates culture during Halloween. I’m guessing they were trying to prevent people from doing something that could hurt someone else’s feelings. I personally didn’t think it was restrictive. It was a good effort on [Elliott’s] part to say that you can have fun but also be mindful of everyone else,” said Mofe Olarinmoye ’16.
Conversation regarding the email has encouraged students to delve deeper into the topics that the chart mentioned.
Tucker Drew ’17 said, “The chart seemed a little bit dismissive. I believe that the first step to getting across to a broader community is to understand why people want to dress the way they do and educate people. You can’t just say that it’s a bad thing. You have to educate them on why it is a bad thing.”
“I welcome the conversation [about the flowchart]. I think sometimes kids get distracted by looking for ways that they administration is looking to wrong them, instead of thinking about potentially the ways that the administration or faculty members are trying to help them be thoughtful about what they’re doing,” said Elliott.