A proposed ban on students wearing cowboy and vicar outfits for fancy dress will turn the University of Kent into “a laughing stock”, it is feared.
The costumes are among many deemed “offensive” on a list drawn up by Kent Union, which says they may jeopardise students’ “right to a safe space at our university”.
In the draft guidelines, it also warns against wearing a Mexican sombrero, dressing in ‘chav’ clothing or imitating a political stereotype such as Harry Enfield’s Tory Boy character.
The Union says its actions will protect students who are offended by inappropriate fancy dress, although it has not revealed how or where any ban will be imposed.
Critics, however, say it goes too far and have launched a petition to get the guidelines ripped up to protect the university’s reputation after the story earned front page coverage nationally.
In its rules, the Union warns against choosing costumes relating to religion, or sensitive historical themes, listing priests and nuns, Nazi officers, and cowboys and Native Americans as negative examples.
Those based on class or political stereotypes will also not be tolerated because they could “promote an unsafe and exclusive campus”, with the Union ruling out “chavs or Tories”.
Mexican costumes complete with sombreros and maracas are banned under the heading of “cultural and race” because they could “embarrass or offend” students.
Costumes of celebrities known for their sexual misconduct or abuse of power have been banned, including the disgraced DJ Jimmy Savile.
Outfits that are condoned include cave people, aliens, doctors and nurses, Ancient Greeks and Romans.
The petition against the guidelines - which so far has almost 300 signatures - is being led by Tom Colsy, a politics student who is president of the Liberty Union.
“This petition is not in opposition to blacking up, or to Nazi outfits,” he said. “We appreciate those are hateful and extremely distasteful.
“What’s dangerous is the conflation between wearing a sombrero and wearing an SS uniform.
“A lot of the things they’ve listed are a bit of fun, and they’re seeing prejudice and hate where there is none.
“[The Union] generally do have good intentions, but they’re in a bubble where everybody shares the same kind of thinking. It creates an echo chamber.”
Whitstable vicar Simon Tillotson - who dressed as a cowboy for a party last week - says that while he supports a ban on Nazi costumes, he has no problem with students dressing up as vicars or nuns.
“With the exception of a costume that clearly depicts an evil ideology and providing it does not offend any particular people group its fine by me,” he said.
“If it’s worn in order to offend that is clearly wrong. I think we should all be able to discern naturally when it’s the former and when it’s the latter.
“We lose our freedom and liberty as people if we cannot be trusted to make those judgements ourselves with a clean conscience.”
Sarah Cox, shop manager at Marlowe Costumes & Canterbury Fancy Dress in Roper Close, Canterbury, says the guidelines are ridiculous.
“I think a lot of the time, people take offence on behalf of somebody else,” she said.
“A lot of the things Kent Union are saying you can’t wear are historic, but people don’t take offence at a re-enactment group doing a historical event.
“Lots of historical characters were not particularly nice. They aren’t banned though.
“What about Henry VIII? He was such a tyrant. How many people did he have killed? I could go on and on.
“The universities are supposed to encourage freedom of speech and creativity, but they’re saying you can’t do this and you can’t do that. The students we have had in here over the last few days, some of them hadn’t heard of the guidelines, and others aren’t going to take any notice of them because they’re so ridiculous.”
Kent Union says its guidelines are in “draft stages” and will be continually reviewed.
“Lots of historical characters were not particularly nice. They aren’t banned though..." vicar Simon Tillotson
It added: “Our values as a union are to be bold, inclusive and supportive and therefore it is a priority for us to promote an inclusive campus and to be respectful of all students, taking into account their lived experiences and points of view and that is what we should be focussing on here.”
“We are aware that students generally have an understanding of these issues, and most fancy dress events are not problematic, but we believe it is important to raise awareness of potentially problematic themes and work with our student groups to ensure successful student-run events.”
On Friday a dress-up protest is being planned at Tacos Locos in St Peter’s Street - a Mexican restaurant which hands out free sombreros to customers.