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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Halloween-costume prank calls flood UF counseling hotline

A UF counseling hotline has received more than 40 false reports since a Fox Sports journalist prank-called the number, claiming to be a gay student offended by a Harambe costume.

The calls were inspired by a reminder in the Oct. 10 issue of the UF newsletter titled “Halloween Costume Choices,” which advised students who feel offended by a costume to contact the UF Counseling and Wellness Center and U Matter, We Care. The reminder, published in the Gator Times, was also sent out last year.

“Some Halloween costumes reinforce stereotypes of particular races, genders, cultures, or religions,” the post said. “Regardless of intent, these costumes can perpetuate negative stereotypes, causing harm and offense to groups of people.”

Clay Travis, the prank-calling journalist, learned about the post and the CWC hotline from one of his readers. He said he wanted to make a point about how overly sensitive people have become to seemingly harmless acts or comments.

“Anyone who is offended by a Halloween costume is a complete and total loser deserving of ridicule and satirization,” he wrote in an email.

In an Oct. 12 livestreamed video, “LSU-Florida mess, CFB gambling picks,” Travis called the hotline and said he was a gay student who went to a fraternity’s Halloween costume party. He said he was offended by someone at the party dressed like Harambe, a gorilla who was shot in late May at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his enclosure.

Travis also gave out the CWC’s phone number to his live audience. He already made headlines earlier this month for his criticism of the cancellation of the Oct. 8 game against LSU, alleging impending Hurricane Matthew was used as an excuse to avoid losing to a superior team.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said the prank calls have burdened UF’s counseling services. The hotline, a free service available every day of the year, is not exclusively for costume complaints, and students with mental health concerns or issues also use the hotline.

“Our role is to support students,” Sikes said, “and when we are diverted to having to deal with people calling in fake reports, we aren’t there to help our students.”

She said UF would not ban any students’ costume choices, and the reminder was just to let students know resources are available if needed.

“The university in no way is regulating Halloween costumes,” Sikes said. “Our students are free to wear whatever costumes they want.”

Jen Day Shaw, the UF associate vice president and dean of students, wrote in an email that the post was meant to be a suggestion to students.

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“It was simply a reminder to students to consider their choices when it comes to Halloween costumes to best represent themselves and UF,” Shaw said.

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