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Party invite? Check; Costume? Check; Formal approval from offense police?! Oxford Student Union cracks down on theme parties

Party invite? Check; Costume? Check; Formal approval from offense police?! Oxford Student Union cracks down on theme parties
Oxford University’s Student Union is cracking down on that scourge of college campuses…themed parties. “Culturally appropriative” and “highly gendered” themes are out - and when in doubt, run your costume by the censors.

Insisting it “does not seek to repress student self-expression through the clothing they choose to wear,” the Union has nevertheless laid out some rules to ensure everyone will “feel able to have a good time” (wait, is that an able-ist slur?) while policing the garb of their fellow guests.

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Highly sexualized themes can have distressing impacts on marginalized communities,” the “Inclusive Practice for Events” page declares. Any gendered theme at all - the archetypal “vicars and tarts,” for example - “may be problematic” for “anyone who does not identify with traditional binary gender roles.” Such themes, the rules warn, will “stereotype men and women in a highly objectified and/or sexualized role” - which one might argue may be the point of such costumes, but not at Oxford. The new policy was highlighted by the Sun on Saturday, though it’s not clear when it was adopted.

The Student Union proceeds to tie itself in knots with its “drag” policy, observing that while of course it’s fine for students to dress in drag in a way that “demonstrates admiration for individuals,” doing so “for the purposes of ridicule or to make light of the experiences of people of that gender” is a no-no. It’s not clear how this is to be judged - perhaps a ‘drag officer’ is to be stationed at the door to evaluate the level of respect in incoming female-impersonators’ garb - nor do the rules explain whether the group throwing the party can submit such an expense for reimbursement by the Union.

Culturally appropriative themes” like “cowboys and indians” or “Arabian nights” are, unsurprisingly, right out, as they can cause non-white and international students to feel “excluded, mocked, or distressed.” Explicitly banning cultural appropriation sounds almost quaint in a hyper-woke age where even Spongebob Squarepants carries colonial guilt, but apparently it’s still enough of a problem to warrant administrative intervention.

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When in doubt, students are instructed to place a note on the door outside the party venue informing their guests that “Students should be able to express themselves through their clothing in a manner of their choosing without judgement. However, dress that is offensive and upsetting to fellow students and others should be avoided,” with instructions to contact a student leader with questions. Nothing says “party” like asking permission from the authorities!

Of course, merely banning themed parties is no guarantee that someone won’t don an offensive costume anyway. In 2017, a student dressed as notorious film producer and alleged rapist Harvey Weinstein for a “horror movie classics”-themed party at Lady Margaret Hall was asked to leave and accused of “trivializ[ing] the lived experience of survivors” of sexual assault, eliciting a formally disapproving statement from the college’s Equalities Committee. And in 2018, a student costumed as paralyzed physicist Stephen Hawking, wheelchair and all, for a “dress as your degree” party was hauled before the school’s dean and asked to “reflect on why his behavior would be seen by many as offensive.” 

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Oxford’s Student Union is somewhat notorious for its painfully woke gestures, whether it’s banning clapping or trying to mandate the use of gender-neutral pronouns. It infamously banned a student-run "free speech magazine" called "No Offense" in 2015, insisting it had the right to remove any material that "could cause offense" from campus.

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