A “How to Guide” for Difficult Conversations
Next to pumpkin flavored everything, Hocus Pocus and sweater weather, Halloween is the best part of fall! Themes and costumes say a lot about Phi Mu and our members. Sometimes, our sisters propose costume or theme party ideas that are offensive to others. Maybe they thought the theme was funny, trendy or unique. Maybe a fraternity chose the idea. Maybe they didn’t think about it.
Theme and costume choices have an impact, and you should talk to them about it. Please utilize this resource guide when you approach difficult conversations with your sisters about offensive costume choices and theme parties.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should say something?
Anyone can bring up this topic if they feel it is important. Phi Mu’s Creed states, “Striving to esteem the inner man above culture, wealth or pedigree.” As members of a values-based organization, all members are responsible for holding each other accountable, having difficult conversations and approaching each other when we are offended, hurt or need to address a concern.
How do I bring it up with my sister(s)?
Plan a time in advance. Let your friend and/or Phi Mu sister know that you want to talk to her about a party theme or costume choice. Make sure your conversation is done in private and one on one. Here are some things to keep in mind when approaching your conversation:
- How did you find out about the costume? Social media, through a friend, did you personally see it? This will help frame your conversation.
- What will you do if she becomes defensive?
- What points do you want to touch on during your talk?
- What do you want to get out of the conversation?
What is the best way to start the conversation?
Using “I” statements along with open-ended questions is powerful. Use statements like:
- “I know it’s not your intention, but this costume/theme could offend people.”
- “I think we should consider how members of that group would feel when they see this costume/theme.”
- “As an ally of the LGBT community, that costume choice offends me.”
- “I feel like your costume choice wasn’t the most appropriate because it perpetuates negative stereotypes in society.”
How can I help members understand that their costume choice is offensive?
The questions you ask during your conversation can help members think about their choices. Consider the following questions:
- Tell me about your theme idea. Where did you come up with it? Why do you want to dress as [insert costume]?
- What message are you sending?
- Do you belong to that culture?
- Would you wear that costume around that group of people?
- What impact could your costume have on others?
- How does your costume align with the principles of love, honor and truth?
- Would you want your costume featured in The Aglaia?
- Is your costume racially, ethnically or culturally based?
What if the theme was a fraternity’s idea?
- When planning events with fraternities, please keep in mind that everyone’s actions and choices reflect Phi Mu; including the fraternity men with whom we socialize with. Encourage members to brainstorm ideas prior to the meeting with the fraternity that are fun, unique and not offensive. If your chapter agrees on a theme that is offensive, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why did you agree to the theme?
- Does the theme represent Phi Mu?
- What message does the theme send?
- Did you think the theme party choice was OK?
- What are alternative theme party ideas?
My adviser thinks it is important to bring up but what if I don’t think it’s a big deal?
Talk to your adviser and try to understand her perspective. Work together to develop a plan to talk to the member(s). If your adviser is offended, it is OK for her to bring up the conversation.
What if the member I’m talking to just doesn’t “get it”?
She might not get it and that’s OK! Learning about differences is a process. Bringing it to her attention is the first step. Raising awareness about offensive costume choices may help your sister see things differently in the future. Be sure to explain your perspective and how her costume choice personally affected you.
Will I be too “P.C.” if I say something?
This is not about being politically correct. This is about creating a culture of respect in your chapter and community. If you are hurt, offended and affected by your sister’s costume choice or a social theme, it is important to initiate a conversation.
What is the member I’m talking to becomes defensive?
This is a definite possibility. Remain calm. Ask her open ended questions. Tell your sister how her costume choice made you feel.
What if I’m not educated on the history of the costume choice or theme?
Do your homework prior to your conversation. Try to find out more about the history of that culture. You don’t have to be fully educated to have a conversation!
Difficult Conversations: Best Practices
- Try not to use humor or sarcasm during the conversation.
- Ask open ended questions.
- Ask members how they chose the theme or costume. Listen to their thought process.
- Educate yourself! Do some research before you meet with this member(s). They might not realize the historical significance of their costume choice. If you are unsure of where to start, visit the Phi Mu blog. The blog includes resources and short articles that address offensive Halloween costumes.
- Use “I” statements.
- Try to relate to your sisters and their experiences.
- Avoid using the phrase, “it’s OK” if a member apologizes for her costume choice. Tell her that you appreciate the apology and thank her for taking the time to talk to you. Saying, “it’s OK” only makes their costume choice acceptable.
- Understand that the conversation is not about you. By opening up the conversation with your sister, you are trying to help her grow and recognize the impact of her costume choice.
- Ask questions to understand and clarify what your sister is saying.
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