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Northwestern Students Warned About Costumes Following Blackface Outrage

10/27/2010 10:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last year, two white students at Northwestern University caused outrage throughout the Evanston campus after photos of them wearing blackface for Halloween surfaced on Facebook. This year, the school's administrator decided to take precautionary measures.

On Tuesday morning, Dean Burgwell J. Howard sent an email to Northwestern students encouraging them to make better Halloween costume choices this year.

"Halloween is unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most NU students can be forgotten and some poor decisions are made," Howard wrote in the email obtained by Gawker. ". . . Blackface, for those who do not know, or do not remember involves the darkening one's skin with polish, paint or some other substance with the goal of impersonating a person of African descent-has been a recurring practice over the past several generations. Blackface costumes, particularly during Halloween are not isolated expressions."

Howard went on to explain that blackface costumes are offensive, and that "ghetto parties", "pimps and hos" and "gangsta" parties are not appropriate. He also encouraged students to do some research on the response to the poor costume choices in previous years at the college.

"The culturally unaware or insensitive choices people have made in the past have not just been directed one cultural group, but have often impacted religious beliefs, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims etc.," Howard wrote. "In many cases the student wearing the costume has not intended to offend, but their actions or lack of forethought have sent a far greater message than any apology could after the fact."

Last year, one white student wore blackface and a T-shirt with the word "Jamaica" on it. The other dressed as a female tennis player in blackface, wearing a stuffed bra and carrying a tennis racket.

"Truthfully, when I saw photos of the blackface kid, I laughed myself out of my chair," junior Carlton Barzon wrote in the student paper last year. "I could only think, "Wow. How can someone intelligent enough to be admitted to Northwestern University, 'Harvard of the Midwest,' lack the tact to recognize such a racially inflammatory costume choice?"

In 2007, two PhD students at Northwestern made similar costume choices.

In his email, Howard encouraged students to think before choosing a costume.

"Northwestern is a community that values free expression as well as inclusivity," he wrote. "And while students, graduate and undergraduate, have the right to express themselves, we would hope that people would actively avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression."

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