The University of Florida administration is preparing for upcoming Halloween festivities by reminding students that the school’s “Bias Education and Response Team” is prepared to handle complaints about offensive costumes. Additionally, the school will provide 24/7 counseling services to anyone who is offended by a particular costume.
An administration newsletter published on October 10 warns students “to think about your choices of costumes and themes . . .” because “[s]ome Halloween costumes reinforce stereotypes of particular races, genders, cultures, or religions. Regardless of intent, these costumes can perpetuate negative stereotypes, causing harm and offense to groups of people.”
The newsletter continues, “If you are troubled by an incident that does occur, please know that there are many resources available . . .” including “a 24/7 counselor in the Counseling and Wellness Center . . . .”
Finally, the students are instructed to report any incidents to “the Bias Education and Response Team at the University of Florida . . .” so it can “. . . respond to any reported incidents of bias, to educate those that were involved, and to provide support by connecting those that were impacted to the appropriate services and resources.”
According to its website, the “purpose of the Bias Education and Response Team (BERT) is to provide impacted parties of bias incidents opportunities to be heard and supported; understand and respond to situations that effect the University of Florida; educate and inform the community; and create awareness of ignorance and intolerance.”
University of Florida spokeswoman Janine Sikes further explained BERT’s role in an interview with the online news outlet Heat Street and said BERT reaches out to the student who makes the complaint to offer various support services.
“Depending on the circumstances, we might reach out to the person who was listed as wearing the costume and see what support or resources they might need as well,” Sikes said. “No one is required to talk to BERT. If the individuals involved desires further conversations with us or each other, we would help facilitate this.”
She also said BERT lacks the authority to formally discipline students.
Sikes was forced to acknowledge that the university offers no formal guidelines for students for what may be considered an offensive or inappropriate costumes, but she tried to stress that the purpose of the initiative is not to violate a students’ right to free speech and free expression.
[image via pointstudio/shutterstock]