TR: How do Halloween costumes fit in?
TS: Just last year a group of white students hosted a “black party.” Attendees painted their skin brown, showed up in “grills” and “urban clothing.” They served chicken and watermelon. We decided that was something we should address. And when the time came this October, we thought a poster campaign would be an inexpensive way to spread the word.
TR: What’s been the reaction thus far?
SW: I put the images on my personal Tumblr account last Friday, and it just skyrocketed. I had 58 followers and now I have 486, plus more than 17,000 notes. I wasn’t expecting that at all.
TR: I heard the campaign almost didn’t happen.
TS: I designed our banner and slogan in one night; the following day, we found out that we weren’t going to get funded to print the posters and post them on campus. It was devastating. None of us knew how to respond. But Sarah approached the university’s dean, and he saved us by agreeing to print 600 copies. This campaign almost never happened, and the fact that it did was a miracle.
TR: What’s been the national feedback from the posters?
SW: We say it’s 80-20. Eighty percent of it is positive. We’ve gotten tons of responses about founding satellite STARS groups at different middle schools, high schools and colleges around the country. That made me feel great. A 14-year-old wants to join Students Teaching About Racism in Society? That’s amazing.
TR: And that last 20 percent, the negative reactions?
SW: That 20 percent can be broken up into two categories. Ten percent is like, “Hey, what about this costume that’s racist, and what about that? Isn’t that offensive, too?” Those are legitimate questions, and we appreciate it. There are tons of offensive Halloween costumes. But we have less than 10 members and less than $50 in our organization’s account. But they have a valid point.
The last 10 percent is really negative and rooted in ignorance and white privilege. Those we just delete.