Costumes and Cultural Sensitivity

Who doesn't love a good costume? Dressing up is fun. It's silly. It's something you can do that's different from every other day. It's a way to express our personalities and is, quite honestly, something a lot of people look forward to when it comes to sorority events. In Tri Delta, there are many opportunities that can sometimes involve costumes...Bid Day, sponsor revelation, recruitment, some social events and then, of course, Halloween.

Themes and costumes say a lot about Tri Delta and our members. Let's talk a little more about how you can be mindful of your costume/theme choices.

Sometimes there is a lot of thought that goes into an event theme or costume. Sometimes there isn't. Sometimes a chapter may start with an innocent enough idea, selecting costumes or themes based on something that could be fun or popular such as a cute slogan, pattern, trend or song. Maybe, as you talk out your idea with other members or officers, you add to it until you've come up with something for your members that is fun, creative and seems perfect! As a result, you may not even notice that it could also be offensive. Take for example the mustache trend. Somehow the mustache is popular and seemingly printed all over everything! So you want to incorporate the mustache. Then the conversation turns into adding sombreros, ponchos, chips and salsa, and by the end of the conversation, it has turned into a Mexican fiesta. Now instead of representing your theme with a costume, you're representing a culture with one. This is offensive. This is not appropriate.

Let's take another seemingly popular trend now: the tribal pattern. It's appearing on shoes, shirts, bedding...everywhere. So you want to paint some Tri Delta letters with a similar pattern. Before you know it, you have decided to play off the pattern and have "TRIbe" as your theme! Afterall, your chapter is close, you're a sisterhood and the word "tribe" could be synonymous with the message you're trying to convey. But as it progresses further and further, members incorporate war paint, feathers, chants or even a teepee. Again, instead of your theme being a costume, you're representing a culture. This is offensive. This is not appropriate.

Tri Delta and The Center for Living, Learning & Leading have provided chapters with the Party Smart Event Planning Guide. This resource is available to assist in planning themes for chapter events. When considering a theme or costume, it's important to ask yourself the following:

  • Is this theme appropriate?
  • If someone knew nothing about fraternities and sororities and this was their first impression, what impression would it leave?
  • Does the theme include slang or terms that non-fraternity/sorority students or the general public could find offensive?
  •  Could someone get the wrong idea?
  • Would I be embarrassed to tell my professors or my parents about the event? 
  • Does the theme match the Purpose of Delta Delta Delta?
  • Will members or guests dress in costumes that could be sexually explicit or culturally insensitive?
  • Does the theme promote an environment that is centered around sexual behavior and/or alcohol?

As we approach yet another opportunity for our members to put on a costume, show their creativity, show their personalities and have fun,  it's important to talk about the difference between a costume that is all in good fun and a costume that sends out a negative message about you as an individual or Tri Delta as an organization. Have a conversation with your sisters about the messages that they are putting out there about themselves and Tri Delta when they go out in costume on Halloween. Consider asking yourself the following:

  • Is your message offensive to a race or culture?
  • Is your costume provocative in nature?
  • What message does your costume send about you?
  • Are you degrading a person, religion, group, etc.?
  • What ways could your theme be interpreted or misinterpreted?
Tri Delta wants to ensure that its members are having a fun, safe and rewarding experience. It's important to remember that it only takes the actions of a few to reflect poorly on the entire organization. Make smart choices and think them all the way through. Protect yourself, your members and your organization from harm, shame or negative consequences. If you or your chapter have any questions, please contact The Center.