Appropriation vs. appreciation: Archer administrators present on Halloween costumes, cultural appropriation


Photo credit: Cadence Callahan

Dean of Student Life, Equity and Inclusion Samantha Hazell-O’Brien and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Resource Coordinator Elana Goldbaum present a video to Upper School students regarding costume selection and cultural appropriation. Middle school students watched the video on Oct. 19.

By Cadence Callahan, Voices Editor

Goblins, ghouls and candy galore. Halloween is often celebrated with extravagant costumes and enough candy to last a lifetime. As we near Oct. 31 and students are beginning to pick out costumes, Archer leaders presented to the student body about costume selection and cultural appropriation.

Each year the middle and upper school students watch a presentation regarding costume selection. This year, Dean of Student Life, Equity and Inclusion Samantha Hazell-O’Brien along with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Resource Coordinator Elana Goldbaum led the annual conversation by presenting a video to both middle and upper school students on Oct. 19 and 20. 

The video showed various examples of cultural appropriation and highlighted the differences between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Throughout the video, Hazell-O’Brien and Goldbaum posed questions for students to think about when choosing a costume, such as, “Is the costume racially or religiously insensitive?” and discussed how power dynamics come into play when culturally appropriating.

“In the video, we go into cultural appreciation so when people say, ‘I really love this culture and I want to dress up as it for Halloween,’ we’re like, ‘Nope. If you really appreciate a culture, you express it in multiple ways throughout the year,’” Hazell O’Brien said. “Halloween is a play day. You don’t want to offend and dress up as something that you actually appreciate.” 

Hazell-O’Brien gave a second presentation to middle school students on Oct. 21 and upper school students on Oct. 22. Half of the grades watched the presentation in-person, while other grades watched via Zoom. During these meetings, Hazell-O’Brien reviewed the information from the video shown earlier in the week by asking students to answer summative questions and opened the conversation to student questions. To conclude the presentation, Hazell-O’Brien shared a video from Teen Vogue where women of color commented on culturally insensitive costumes.

Eighth-grader Serenity Jones said the presentation was helpful for people who may not understand if they’re actively culturally appropriating. 

“I think the video was helpful because some people aren’t aware that some of the things they do are cultural appropriation like wearing afro wigs, et cetera,” Jones said.

On a day where you’re going to dress up and eat lots of candy, we want to make sure that the exterior that you’re presenting is not insensitive or offensive to someone else.

— Samantha Hazell O'Brien

Junior London Dorton said it was important to have this conversation about appropriation at Archer because the school contains a variety of people with different cultures and backgrounds.

“There’s a lot of different cultures at Archer, and I feel like we try to promote diversity as much as we can, and cultural appropriation could easily happen because of that,” Dorton said. “So, it’s important for people to know where to draw the line with those things.” 

The video put together by Hazell-O’Brien and Goldbaum stressed the differences between appropriating and appreciating a culture, outlining several ways to show appreciation throughout the year such as wearing jewelry created by members of that heritage.

“If you’re representing the culture accurately, and being respectful, then I believe that’s appreciation,” Jones said. “But if you’re being stereotypical, then that’s appropriation and it’s not okay.” 

Halloween is a very celebrated holiday on Archer’s campus, and with all upcoming festivities, Hazell-O’Brien said she wants to eliminate any possibility of a student wearing something offensive or insensitive.

“I’ve learned Halloween is such a big deal [here], and I want everyone’s experience with Halloween to be positive,” Hazell-O’Brien said. “One way to help control that is to have these conversations around thoughtfully picking your costume so you’re not appropriating or being insensitive to someone else’s culture or religion.”