Student group claims OU memo on costumes is “dangerously close to violating” First Amendment

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NORMAN, Okla. - A student group said a letter sent by the University of Oklahoma over Halloween costumes is "dangerously close to violating" a freedom of expression.

The memo, addressed to the "OU community," was a reminder Halloween costumes should be "designed respectfully."

"While we admire the creativity that goes into many people's costume choices, be aware that cultural appropriation of identities can be offensive. Please, select your costumes and depictions in a way that does not demean, dehumanize or diminish anyone's identity or culture," it reads, in part.

Most students we spoke with on campus said they think the university was right to send the reminder.

"I know my sorority tells us the same thing," said OU senior Leah Cole. "I definitely think they’re (OU) in the right for that just because it’s a good reminder. Sometimes, we don’t always think about what, how things could offend people."

OU junior Brent Akers agreed.

"I think it’s awesome that OU did that, there’s no place for cultural appropriation on our campus and people need to realize that," Akers told us.

In response to the memo, the student group 'OU College Republicans' posted this week on Facebook that it was not the university's prerogative to monitor Halloween costume choices.

"It may have good intentions, but sending an email like this one is getting dangerously close to violating faculty and students' First Amendment right to freedom of expression. OU should be a place where students and faculty are free to express themselves. To clarify, we are NOT - under ANY circumstances - advocating for blackface or racism. However, students should be able to choose their Halloween costumes independently of 'cultural appropriation' warnings from liberal OU, especially if they are conducting themselves in a respectful manner," the post read.

 

Zachary Chick, a graduate student, said he also agreed it was a good idea for the university to send out the memo.

In response to the claim that it was close to violating the First Amendment, Chick said "I could see that being a problem, but on the same hand I feel like this is just a reminder. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal that they (OU College Republicans) should be making a big deal out of it."

The group declined to an on-camera interview with News 4 on Tuesday but did refer to us to a new post from Chair Logan Schoonover, which stated:

"We have added to (not edited) our original post to be more clear about the point we were making and to address accusations that we are advocating for blackface or racism. This is simply not the case. We do not condone blackface or racism under any circumstances — period. That was not explicitly stated in the original post and, as the chair and the author of the post, I am sorry for that. Additionally, this post was made after consulting members of the state committee and is not a reflection all of our members’ individual views."

The group's executive director, Joseph Howard, also weighed in on the original post. He said he did not think the university was in the wrong.

"They are not forcing anybody to do anything, they are not dictating or pressuring, and they are not creating some kind of rule. I think there are worse things the university can do, and that many universities are actually doing, that genuinely harm freedom of expression and speech; we should be turning our attention to those particular cases. I just do not think this is an example of that, nor do I think this is something we should be up in arms about," Howard wrote in a Facebook comment.

In response to the post, a spokesperson for the university sent us this statement:

“As with all things, we continue to remind our community to be considerate of others. This was intended to be a reminder that our actions can cause undue stress for others and was not intended to be a directive.”

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