URLs du Jour


■ After yesterday's flirtation with aristocratic cheerleading, we are back to plain old sensible advice in Proverbs 19:11

11 A person’s wisdom yields patience;
    it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Today's picture: a wise Boston terrier exhibiting extreme patience in overlooking an offense.

And, as it happens, not overlooking minor offenses is kind of a theme in what follows today.

■ I'm in the middle of reading The Fragile Generation in dead-trees Reason, a wise article from Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt. But (good news, everyone) you can read it for free, and you should.

Beginning in the 1980s, American childhood changed. For a variety of reasons—including shifts in parenting norms, new academic expectations, increased regulation, technological advances, and especially a heightened fear of abduction (missing kids on milk cartons made it feel as if this exceedingly rare crime was rampant)—children largely lost the experience of having large swaths of unsupervised time to play, explore, and resolve conflicts on their own. This has left them more fragile, more easily offended, and more reliant on others. They have been taught to seek authority figures to solve their problems and shield them from discomfort, a condition sociologists call "moral dependency."

This poses a threat to the kind of open-mindedness and flexibility young people need to thrive at college and beyond. If they arrive at school or start careers unaccustomed to frustration and misunderstandings, we can expect them to be hypersensitive. And if they don't develop the resources to work through obstacles, molehills come to look like mountains.

And just by calendarical coincidence…

■ … we read that authority figures at the University Near Here are, indeed, trying to shield the technically-no-longer-children under its aegis during upcoming festivities. From the student newspaper: Administration preps for Halloween.

The Academic Deans of UNH sent out an email Tuesday regarding Halloween weekend. The email outlined the university’s concerns about the health and wellness of students and encouraged mutual respect of all Wildcats.
According to Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick, the email is one of the many preparations that have been in the works since September to prepare for the festivities.

Student Body President Carley Rotenberg says she hopes that students will read the email and consider evaluating how they will celebrate Halloween and what kind of costume they will be celebrating in.

"Students aren’t forced to do this,” Rotenberg said. "But we strongly recommend [they] don’t wear anything that will offend anyone.”

Back when I worked at UNH, during long meetings I would imagine glowing animated running dollar totals above each attendee's head, showing the salary earned while sitting there. At the end of the meeting, a grand total would appear: "This meeting cost the University $X".

I can only guess at the total involved in the "many preparations" that the Academic Deans worked on.

Perhaps someday people will look back at these times and wonder: why, of all things, did people decide to get offended by costumes? Why, it's almost as if they were looking for things to offend them, and costumes were the most likely target.

Echoing Skenazy and Haidt: how did these molehills become mountains?

But wait, there's more:

Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity Jaime Nolan has also been working with Student Senate and members of the administration to help students understand the difference between what is disrespectful to someone’s culture versus celebratory and fun.

"There’s been a lot of opportunities for lessons, including Instagram postings and so on, and I think there’s been a real genuine effort on a lot of people’s parts to want to fix that or at least think about it differently,” Nolan said.

While Nolan says she understands some people might ask what the big deal is surrounding costumes and cultural appropriation, it’s important that students are, "willing to step into the shoes of somebody else and just pause,” she said. "We forget that there’s this accumulation of things, even with costumes,” Nolan said.

Nolan used an example she had learned previously when trying to explain the significance of cultural appropriation to others.

"In the morning you stub your toe, then you go about your business. Then someone accidentally stomps on you, and then three or four more things happen and then at the end of the day, someone drops a piece of paper on your foot and you freak because you’ve had so much happen to your foot all day,” Nolan explained. "If I crunch your foot I should apologize for stepping on your toe even if I didn’t mean to.”

I am reminded of a Raylan Givens quote:

Rotenberg echoed Nolan, stating the importance of perspective.

"Find something that would offend you and picture someone else dressing up as that, and now you can say, okay, I get it,” Rotenberg said.

OK, Carley, I've found something that offends me: University administrators with six-figure bullshit jobs, holding vast arbitrary powers to ruin students' academic careers, pontificating on those students' acceptable Halloween attire.

And now I'm picturing someone dressing up that way, perhaps in Puritan garb? And blue nose. Handing out stickers for people's costumes that say either "ACCEPTABLE" [with a smiley face] or "PROBLEMATIC!" [frowny face].

You know what? I'm OK with that. In fact, I wish someone had the wit and courage to dress up that way.

Though awareness of cultural appropriation has been an aspect of preparations for Halloween, according to Kirkpatrick, what students wear and how they act is ultimately up to them.

"I don’t want to abridge and neither does the institution, any free expression,” Kirkpatrick said.

Reader, I dare say you can guess the very next word out of Dean Kirkpatrick's lips.

"But if you and I knew that by doing something it would hurt somebody, why would we want to keep doing it?”

I would ask Dean Kirkpatrick: "Dean, you know that you disgust and offend me when you treat ostensible adults as children and hector them on their costume choices. Why do you keep doing that?"

Other preparations for the weekend include diversity training in the residence halls with hall directors and residence assistants, working with law enforcement to prepare for events like Halloween, talking to Greek life, as well as talking to professors about academic expectations, according to Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick and other academic deans will be walking around campus Friday and Saturday night as part of Kirkpatrick’s Red Coats initiative he started a few years ago with the purpose of looking out for students and possible dangerous situations.

He emphasizes that, though they will be looking out for students, they will not be policing students or "taking notes on costumes,” he said. Joining the Red Coats this weekend are the Weekend Walkers, who are a group made up of professional staff and faculty from many areas of campus according to the university’s website, and law enforcement.

"We’re not police. It was just for the students to know that we care about things, to encourage people to be safe and to take care of each other and make good choices, and when you see people that are obviously impaired, to do what you can to help,” Kirkpatrick said.

Oh, they're not "police" and they're not "taking notes". Still, I think there's an implicit "but" involved. Suggestion: snappy brown shirts under the red coats.

Despite thorough measures by the administration and Student Senate to make sure Halloween weekend goes smoothly, Rotenberg says she is remaining positive about the outcome of the weekend. Kirkpatrick echoed Rotenberg, reminding students not to, "miss a moment,” and, "have a great time,” but having fun, "shouldn’t spill into the real reason why you’re here which is to earn a degree and then when you’re out after graduation to do great things.”

Pun Salad's advice to UNH students: unless you can be wickedly courageous and clever (see my suggestion above), be an adult and dodge the whole mess by staying in your room and studying. Give Halloween back to the kids.

■ Ah, but we're not done. UNH student Jordyn Haime issues her demand in a student newspaper column: Be respectful this Halloween.

I remember my band instructor’s Halloween costume during my senior year of high school very well. It was the annual Halloween parade in some nearby rural New Hampshire town, and we were all required to wear Halloween costumes. My instructor dressed up as a “Native American chief,” complete with headdress and flute. But the accessories weren’t enough: he felt the need to yell nonsense noises and songs at the crowd; I suppose that was his interpretation of what a Native American sounded like.

Did you ever notice that Social Justice Warriors are able to dig up detailed anecdotes from their past that, so conveniently, just happen to exactly illustrate their thesis?

Yeah, me too.

It’s easy enough to understand what’s offensive about putting on a headdress or a sombrero and calling it a costume before going out to party with your friends. Someone else’s culture is not your costume, and you need to be careful about the costumes you buy and what you represent on Halloween.

Apparently Jordyn doesn't understand what's offensive about telling her fellow students what they "need to be careful" about doing.

Let’s take the “Hombre” costume I saw at Wal-Mart the other day as an example. It came with a colorful poncho, a sombrero, and a stick-on mustache.

For the record, I can only find this. Out of stock, and it doesn't include a mustache.

Now, think about why anyone would want to buy that costume. Think about why you would want to dress up as what you think a Mexican looks like. And think about the costume itself: the poncho, the sombrero, the mustache.

Yes. Think. Obviously, Jordyn knows the story. She's already arrived at the conclusion she wants you to come to. Just like her band instructor, anyone who "would want to buy that costume" is just evil.

How many Mexicans do you know? Do they wear colorful ponchos and sombreros to school or to work? Do they wear them on Cinco de Mayo? The answer is no. The costume is just that: a costume; a caricature that draws on harmful and racist stereotypes and makes them the punchline to a joke.

On the contrary: the only people who can look at ponchos and sombreros and see "harmful and racist stereotypes" are those who want to see them that way.

When you’re planning your costume this Halloween, please, ask yourself first: why am I doing this? What makes this funny? What stereotypes am I provoking with this costume? Who could I be hurting? Consider the history. Consider your own stereotypes perceptions of culture and people of color. Just stop for a second, and ask yourself why.

Here are some questions Jordyn might ask herself: Why am I getting so upset about other peoples' costumes? What makes this the most critical thing I can concern myself with? What gives me the right to assume the worst motives about people from their costume choices? Have I asked myself if people might enjoy portraying themselves as members of some other culture, and have perfectly innocent reasons for doing so?

If you’re planning on being an “hombre” for Halloween, or Pocahontas, or Moana, or a Geisha, or a Rabbi, just don’t. Freedom of expression is of the utmost important [sic]to all of us. But freedom to exist safely and comfortably in a space is also an essential right. There are plenty of other costumes you can wear and still have a great time without hurting anyone, provoking racist stereotypes, or making a mockery of a culture that you don’t understand.

Moana? Seriously?

Rabbis are bad. Go figure. How about the Pope? Is the Pope OK? How about Torquemada, the famous Grand Inquisitor, determined to root out heresy? Hm. Jordyn, I think that would be a fine costume for you.

All I’m asking is that we be kind and respectful of one another this Halloween, and make UNH a safer and more welcoming place for all of us.

Nobody with an ounce of proportion or sanity is made less safe by someone else's choice of Halloween costume.