Students at the University of Wisconsin got some helpful advice for trick or treating this year in an e-mail. (Hat tip to John J. Miller at the Corner.)

WEARING A FUNNY COSTUME?

Ask yourself: Is the humor based on “making fun” of real people, real human traits or cultures?Though intended to be funny, the “Mental Patient” costume by Disguise was considered demeaning, dehumanizing, and humiliating to individuals struggling with a mental illness and their families. Complete with a “Hannibal” type mask and a straightjacket, the costume reinforced stereotypes and fears about persons with mental illness.

WEARING A SCARY COSTUME?

Ask yourself: Is the “fear factor” based on real forms of violence or grotesque depictions of human traits? “This scary stud can empty out a full house just by walking through the door,” touts the tag line for Fright Catalog’s “Vato Loco” mask. The bandana clad, tattooed, brown-skinned vinyl creation makes light of gang violence, which takes a serious toll on families and neighborhoods across the country. The costume also sends the message that Latinos are violent.

WEARING A HISTORICAL COSTUME?

Ask yourself: If the costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies? The “Indian” get-up prevails each year as culture-turned-costume. But did you know few Native Americans wore buckskin and headbands and even fewer wore them together? Did you know “war paint” and feathers carry religious meaning and were never worn by Native American children?

WEARING A “BEAUTIFUL” COSTUME?

Ask yourself: If the costume is meant to be beautiful, are these characteristics drawn from commercial references, such as movie characters? Too often, beautiful at Halloween means white, blonde, princess masks. What statement does your Halloween costume make about what constitutes beauty — and about who is beautiful and who isn’t?

This is pretty much the definition of why I came up with the #HeadDesk hashtag on Twitter.

What college students are wearing for costumes is, for the most part, not much of a concern. If they want to strike a blow to improve the world and lift up society, they might ask the students to get more involved in what their much younger siblings are being dressed up as. For example, rather than worrying about whether or not your native American headdress is culturally insensitive, you could ask whether or not it’s appropriate for your twelve year old sister to dress up like this.

Costumes

You could also make sure that none of your friends are out there taking advantage of the holiday by using costumes to commit crimes. For the most part, though, kids just want to go out and act silly and eat too much candy and have fun. If you can manage to not dress your tweenage daughters like they’re preparing for a career on the stripper pole and keep the kids in sight at all times to prevent abductions and attacks you’ll probably be fine.

Relax. It’s Halloween. Not everything has to be a war on something or someone.