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Ohio college group leads campaign against 'racially insensitive' Halloween costumes

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Anyone with plans to dress up as a gangster or belly dancer this Halloween may want to reconsider.

A group at Ohio University is leading a campaign to bring attention to what it calls "racially insensitive" costumes that perpetuate ethnic and racial stereotypes.

"We're a culture, not a costume," the group, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, or STARS, says in its annual Halloween poster campaign, now in its second year.

On its website, STARS shows students holding photos of costumes deemed offensive by the group. In one instance, a Muslim student stands next to a picture of a white man wearing a ghutra and iqal over his head with bombs strapped to his chest.

"This is not who I am and this is not okay," reads the message above the picture. 

Other images show an Asian student holding a photo of a geisha and an African-American man positioned next to an image of a gangster. The caption reads: "You wear the costume for one night, I wear the stigma for life."

A representative from the group was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. In a statement on its website, the group said "The purpose of S.T.A.R.S. is to facilitate discussion about diversity and all isms (sexism, classism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism etc.) with an emphasis on racial issues. 

"We aim to raise awareness about social justice, and promote racial harmony. Our job is to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings," the group said. 

The initiative comes after well-known chain stores came under fire in recent years for selling controversial Halloween costumes -- like Target's adult "illegal alien" jumpsuit. 

STARS' campaign has gained some momentum since it was launched last year. The movement reportedly spread to Florida State University, where many students back the group's message. 

But not everyone is in agreement with the group's initiative. Some students, like FSU senior Gavin Brenner, claim STARS is suppressing freedom of expression and being overly sensitive.  

"These [costumes] are all portrayals which take place in film and television all the time," Benner told fsunews.com. “There will always be people who are being irresponsible and intentionally offensive, but that is the vast minority. When you take into account that everyone has a freedom to expression, then I believe it isn’t anyone’s place to suppress that.”

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