Eduvation Blog

Bats in the Belfry

Good morning, and TGIF!

Alberta PSE students are apparently staging a “Day of Action” today, to protest rising tuition and cuts in provincial funding. I’m going to share some much lighter content with you today…

This Sunday is Hallowe’en, one of the revered “chocolate holidays” that often gets a bad rap for its overtly pagan associations. (I mean come on, after all, Christmas was built atop Saturnalia at the winter solstice, and Easter atop fertility rituals at the vernal equinox, too.)

In my younger days, I loved Hallowe’en as a rare opportunity to outwardly express my inner geek (and of course to gather sacks full of high-calorie loot). As a father, I saw trick-or-treating as a great experiential learning opportunity for kids, to gain life lessons about cooperation, overcoming shyness, and persistence: a closed door was not always an unwelcoming one. I think I also absorbed my father’s deep-seated appreciation for Hallowe’en as an occasion for neighbourly generosity and childlike fun.

I’m sure that on many CdnPSE campuses, after several weeks of Homecoming and Fauxcoming, the prospect of yet another weekend of street revelry is enough to make the blood run cold in administrators’ veins. But Hallowe’en also seems like the ideal pandemic holiday: celebrated outdoors, usually masked, and involving the exchange of individually-wrapped treats at arm’s length!

Like April Fool’s and Winter Break, Hallowe’en is also a non-denominational opportunity for higher ed marketers and social media managers to engage their communities, and the broader public, with a sense of humour and fun…



Pandemic Hallowe’ens

Looking back at my coverage last year (“Higher Ed Hallowe’en Treats”) takes me back to the novelty of our first pandemic Hallowe’en…


Zombie Pandemic

A year ago, France and Germany were in strict lockdown, stock markets were crashing, Ontario seemed to be “flattening the curve,” but Manitoba and Saskatchewan were setting new records for COVID19 infections. (Not all that different from this year, but substitute AB for MB.) An Ipsos poll found that 81% of Canadians were planning to turn out the lights for last Hallowe’en, and odds of finding treats were worst in Quebec, where the pandemic was worst at the time. Those who were still determined to celebrate the holiday were organizing drive-thru haunted houses, or employing socially-distant candy distribution tools (from slingshots and chutes to the 3D printed solution developed by Okanagan College students). And sadly, in mid-November last year we saw a surge in COVID19 infections 2 weeks after all the out-of-control Hallowe’en parties, particularly at uWindsor, Fanshawe, and Western.


Thanks to strong vaccine uptake and waning infection curves, there is reason to think Hallowe’en 2021 will be a whole lot LESS scary…


Trick or Treat?

Despite the pandemic, it might still be safe for unvaxxed kids to trek door-to-door Sunday night – depending on the epidemiological conditions in your region, naturally. (One uSask epidemiologist observes that Hallowe’en is “more threatening” this year than last, particularly in Saskatoon.) One UNC infectious disease expert recommends that neighbours coordinate the flow of trick-or-treaters to prevent crowding at doors, and assures parents that ringing doorbells and collecting candy is pretty low-risk (although kids should sanitize their hands before eating those treats). A Purdue pediatric nursing prof concurs that the risk of fomite transmission of COVID19 is low, but kids should wear proper face masks, not just costume masks – and should stay home if they are exhibiting any symptoms, of course. If you’re answering the door on Sunday night, wear a mask, use tongs, and of course – be vaccinated!


Plague Historians

Medieval plague masks were back in style last year, as we reflected on Hallowe’en 1918 (amidst the Spanish Flu pandemic). Little had changed in a century: PHOs were still discouraging “jollifications” in the streets. Some CdnPSE academics became public intellectuals: one MSVU history prof wrote about the Celtic origins of Samhain, while a UPEI history prof documented the haunting of Dalton Hall, and a Carleton prof explored the stereotypes and misogynistic fears driving witch costumes, as girls “flirt with the daring possibilities of female agency.”



Year of the Bat

In China, 2021 is the year of the Ox, but everywhere ELSE it appears to be the year of the bat – whether we assume the COVID19 pandemic started with them or not! (Of course, it helps that it’s also “International Bat Week”…)

uCentral Florida has 5,000 bats in its Arboretum, which biology prof Patrick Bohlen explains in this 4-min spot (which begins with a horror film parody). They consume about 2 million insects each and every night.  YouTube

UNBC biology prof Erin Baerwald studies the migratory behaviour of bats, and “actively sought out a house with bats” when she moved to Prince George. (“Their poop makes good fertilizer and they feed on insects.”)  CBC


uRegina biology PhD student Dana Green enthusiastically answers some FAQs about bats, and dispels popular misconceptions and fears about them, in this 1.5-min video. (She also encourages everyone to dress up as bats this Hallowe’en.)  YouTube

Western biology prof Brock Fenton co-authored A Miscellany of Bats to help dispel myths and misconceptions about these “complicated and dynamic” winged mammals. Half the bat species found in Ontario are now classified as endangered, and the COVID19 pandemic only heightened people’s fears that they might carry disease. (The book, due out next April, features amazing photography previewed in this article.)  Western News

Lakehead U english prof Batia Stolar discusses some of the early origins and sources for Brahm Stoker’s Dracula in this 4-min interview. (Vampires are often metaphors that allow writers to explore the nature of healthy human relationships.)  CTV



Costume Capers

CdnPSEs are encouraging staff and students to express themselves this Hallowe’en… but with some caveats!

Brock U is offering an expanded slate of events this week, and ramping up campus security, “to encourage responsible gatherings” for Hallowe’en. (A messaging campaign will encourage students, “Don’t put the Bad in Badger.”) Plans include many outdoor events, music trivia, a movie fright night, a food drive, and information campaigns on consent and safety.  Brock News

Cambrian College is inviting selfies via DM, which they will post this weekend and invite the community to guess whether they are “Costume, Class or Career.”  Twitter 

uGuelph is encouraging students to register their Hallowe’en parties, consulting with the office of Neighbourhood Relations about COVID19 protocols, bylaws, and ways to stay good neighbours with the community.  CTV 

Laurier is encouraging students to “Stay Ghoulden this Halloween” by making respectful choices this weekend, adhering to pandemic gathering limits, and avoiding underage or unlicensed drinking.  WLU

Lethbridge College campus media is holding a costume contest today in the Centre Core, with free candy and prizes for everything from funniest to scariest.  Twitter

uLethbridge religious studies prof Jennifer Otto explains why Christians in southern Alberta are urging people to dress up as devils, goblins or witches on Saturday night this year, instead of Sunday.  Global

uWindsor Food Services is hosting a costume party, with trivia and other “sweet activities,” on Saturday night.  uWindsor

Yale students are tempting pandemic fate by upholding their annual “Hallowoads” tradition of going clubbing at Toad’s Place the Wednesday before Hallowe’en.  YouTube



Cultural Appropriation

Of course, CdnPSE is also woke to the reality that Hallowe’en costumes are lightning rods for offense and potential embarrassment…

Mount Allison U and its student union are reminding the campus community that “inappropriate costume choices that denigrate and reduce peoples to stereotypes are disrespectful and can be perceived as racism.”  Twitter

Brock U hosted online workshops yesterday about problematic costumes, called “Be Spooky, Not Racist.”  Brock Cares

uToronto student Rosalind Liang discusses “the difference between appropriation and appreciation” in costume choices. Cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged adoption of creative or artistic themes, customs, or traditions from a minoritized demographic.” It can “trivialize the systemic oppression and hardships” of those groups, and “devalue their history… for the sake of an aesthetic.” While dressing as a cat or witch is unobjectionable, “dressing up as a real person from a different ethnic background is an easy ‘no.’” Fictional characters, like Disney’s Moana, are less clear-cut, particularly when young kids “just want to dress up like their favourite heroine.” If in doubt, “reach for those cat ears.”  The Varsity

Thompson Rivers U student Amna Qazi shared a 7-point checklist last year, to ensure your Hallowe’en costume isn’t racist, sexist, transphobic, devaluing traditional regalia, or perpetuating harmful stereotypes.  TRU

Ohio U started the “My Culture is not a Costume” campaign in 2011, and there are plenty of efforts underway this year at Scottsdale CC, UC Boulder, uOregon, uDenver, U Northern Colorado, and elsewhere.  Insider Higher Ed

​​Having the words and the language to be able to talk through cultural appropriation, as opposed to just letting it happen, is important, whether that’s in the personal realm or whether that’s in the classroom.”Tobias Guzmán, Interim VP Student Affairs, U Northern Colorado



Hallowe’en Spirit

CdnPSE is getting into the Samhain spirit…

Emily Carr U shared a “spine-tingling collection of spooky artwork” by students and alumni, ranging from “cannibal bunnies” and “cursed children” to “anthropomorphous trees.” ECUAD

Athabasca U English profs discussed 3 “spooky stories to sink your teeth into this Hallowe’en.”  AU News

New Brunswick Museum has discovered a “spooky songbook” in its basement library covered with memento mori. The Officium Defunctorum contains chants for the dead, typically sung on All Souls’ Day in the late 1700s.  CBC

Camosun College anthropology prof Nicole Kilburn delves into the history of cats and witches in a 5-min video on “Symbols of Hallowe’en.”

MacEwan U Spanish prof Erin Alice Cowling shares some history of “otherworldly” chocolate and its introduction to Europe, “from witchcraft to miracle worker.” Chocolate’s origins in Latin America automatically made it suspiciously satanic to many Europeans, and medical practitioners feared its potential negative effects on health. In fiction and popular mythology, liquid chocolate also made a convenient vehicle to deliver poison or sleeping potions.  The Conversation

uSt Paul grad student Samantha McLean describes some of the cultural significance of cemeteries, a space that “helps communities connect the past with the present.”  Education News Canada

uManitoba Archives shared some historic photos of “investigations of psychic phenomena,” from the Hamilton Family Fonds, for #ThrowbackThursday yesterday.  Twitter

uWinnipeg education prof Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, uOttawa psych prof Erin Maloney, and Carletoncognitive sci prof Heather Douglas explain “5 ways sorting Halloween candy can help children develop mathematics skills.” (Certainly the stakes were high when my brother and I were counting and arranging our Hallowe’en hauls on the kitchen floor…)  The Conversation



Campus Haunts

University campuses, particularly those with gothic architecture, seem to spark ghost tales and shivers…

Camosun College’s landmark Young Building (which is actually 108 years old) is reportedly home to “strange noises, unexplained phenomena, and eerie feelings that there is someone there who isn’t.” Apparently “its proximity to Mount Tolmie and several well-known energy vortexes surrounding it make the Camosun campus prone to ghostly manifestations.”  Victoria News

Concordia’s Grey Nuns Motherhouse, in Montreal, still houses the remains of 232 nuns in its basement crypt, and made Daily Hive’s list of Canada’s 13 “most spooky and haunted places.”  Daily Hive

Dalhousie’s Shirreff Hall is reputedly haunted by the lovelorn ghost of “Penelope,” reportedly responsible for abrupt chills and strange sounds, and even appearing as a weeping apparition. Although “perhaps the story is more hokum than haunting.”  Dal News

“What’s the point of being part of a 200-year-old university if there aren’t a few ghosts wandering the ivory towers?”Ryan McNutt, Dal News


uToronto has plenty of spooky old buildings on its downtown St George campus, the perfect backdrop for a 75-min outdoor ghost tour called “Campus Secrets and Spectres.” The tour, rated 3/5 on the “spookiness scale,” promises tales of “terrifying tunnels, restless spirits trapped among the stars, haunting love stories and more.”  The Varsity

uManitoba shared a list of the “top 10 spookiest spots on campus… sure to send shivers down your spine.” The list includes the Dentistry Museum, campus tunnels, a haunted research station, and some particularly spooky archives.  UM Today

Nottingham Trent U students visit Hopkinson’s blood-soaked Haunted Museum in this over-the-top 11-min video documentary. (Looks like quite the tourist trap!)  YouTube

Texas Tech U may just be taunting animal rights activists by portraying its Natural Science Research Lab as a spooky repository of 5M specimen samples, where “the dead are given new life.”  YouTube




Last year, I collected just 17 videos on my Hallowe’en 2020 YouTube playlist. This year, colleges and universities appear to be more ambitious. My Hallowe’en 2021 YouTube playlist has 17 examples already, and doubtless I’ll find more to add from my 800+ feeds over the next few days. (I’m trying to keep the best of them towards the top of the playlist.) Here are a few…

uStirling’s 2019 Hallowe’en video is still worth watching ICYMI. It’s a delightful little 2-min parody of classic suspense movies, set in residence. (I’ll be watching to see if they release something new this weekend.)  YouTube


Coastal Carolina U’s teaching fellows hosted “Trunk or Treat” for kids in the local community, who get to collect candy from various campus clubs, from the trunks of decorated cars in the parking lot. (As always with CCU, some great costumes and videography!)  YouTube


uRichmond (VA) clearly “takes the pumpkin” as the most “all-in” this Hallowe’en. Their website has a dedicated Hallowe’en page with 5 official UR jack-o-lantern stencils and 4 years’ worth of pretty good Hallowe’en videos. This year, they’ve added at least 4 new episodes in a comic reality series, “UR Ghost Hunters.” (You may recall that last year I featured UR’s 2019 Hallowe’en Ghost Busters parody.)  Hallowe’en Microsite



There are bound to be plenty more videos released in the next 2 days, such as…

College of the North Atlantic is promising a “delightfully frightening” hour of “short horror / horror-comedy films” from the Digital Filmmaking program, premiering tonight at 8pm on its YouTube channel.

(I’ll keep adding to my 2021 Hallowe’en playlist, so stay tuned!)



I hope you found some of that fun – and wish you a safe and Happy Hallowe’en!

The really scary stuff will be back Monday, with another “Pandemic Précis!” (Actually, you’ll be relieved to know it’s not looking THAT scary…)


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