Syracuse Police Threaten Students with Disciplinary Action for ‘Offensive’ Halloween Costumes

By November 22, 2010

Boo! FIRE intervened at Syracuse University last week after it threatened disciplinary action against students who might wear "offensive" Halloween costumes. Tony Callisto, chief of the university’s Department of Public Safety, told The Daily Orange:

"If we detect that there’s a person with an offensive costume, we’d likely require them to remove it, and we would file a judicial complaint," Callisto said. "There are costumes that could be very offensive to members of protected class communities."

Students can also report bias to DPS. It will investigate the incident to see if there was actually bias, which would be a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, and would then file a judicial complaint.

On November 18, FIRE wrote Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor about this violation of Syracuse’s own promises of freedom of expression.

Why is the university cracking down now?

An investigation about a report of a racially insensitive Halloween costume occurred five or six years ago, said DPS Chief Tony Callisto. And though there have been reports of biased costumes since then, none ha[s] been serious enough to prompt an investigation, he said.

If DPS patrol officers see a biased costume during Halloween weekend, they will act on it, Callisto said. [Emphases added.]

Five or six years ago? No problem prompting even an investigation for five or six years? Why the sudden interest, then?

Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs for Inclusion, Community and Citizenship, sheds some light on the real message:

This year’s e-mail was sent in coalition with the STOP Bias program, which was launched last month. STOP Bias was created to provide the SU community with resources to help those who have been impacted by bias incidents on and around campus.

"This e-mail is not specific to Halloween costumes. This is a much broader issue," Kantrowitz said.

If Syracuse University wants to be taken seriously as a marketplace of ideas, it will make sure that all students understand that Syracuse will honor its promises of free speech. Instead, Syracuse is encouraging its students to anonymously inform the campus authorities about one another’s biases. For instance, if you want to report somebody’s "[i]nappropriate verbal comment," Syracuse wants to know who said it, but your complaint can remain anonymous.

If you want to treat someone "negatively" because of their political affiliation, such as by "[t]elling jokes," that’s out, too. No more political jokes at Syracuse!

If you engage in "stereotyping," Syracuse wants someone to report on you. Sorry, College Republicans and College Democratsno more political stereotyping about your political opponents is allowed. If somebody overhears someone stereotyping the Tea Party or the Green Party, don’t forget:

As a student of SU, you have an obligation to take an active role in fostering an appreciation for diversity and sending the message loud and clear that bias-related acts will not be tolerated. 

If somebody tells a political joke you find offensive, just fill out the bias incident reporting form and, under "Impacted person," type out the name of Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell. Be loud and clear. Tony Callisto and the STOP Bias team would love to hear from you.

Schools: Syracuse University