Few things are more cringe-inducing than blackface. For a group of University of Toronto students, that’s the most recent lesson learned.

At a Halloween party on Oct. 29, a Trinidadian student and four white friends decided to dress up as the Jamaican bobsled team from the 1993 kitsch film Cool Runnings.

They wore brightly coloured tracksuits, one dreadlock wig and Jamaican flag T-shirts. Oh, and face paint: For the black student, posing as the coach played by John Candy, thick white clown makeup. For the white students, brown foundation slightly darker than George Hamilton’s self-tanner.

The day after the party, Torontoist posted a photo of the group, kicking off a heated comment-section debate on satire and tribute. Criticism centred on the notion the bobsled team had apparently won a costume prize.

“There wasn’t voting or any rationale or best costume award,” says Deryn Robson, a South Asian student at St. Michael’s College, who organizes events like the Halloween gathering for 1,500 at Mansion Bar and Wet Lounge. Robson, who went as Mickey Mouse, says after every party, he sends his mailing list a bunch of photos. This time, he singled out group costumes he thought were fun.

As always, he offered passes to the next student union party to those in the pics. Only a bunch dolled up as burlesque dancers accepted the freebies. What U of T’s Black Students’ Association wanted was official apologies from the three colleges that threw the party.

In a defence posted on Torontoist, the U of T group said the costume was a specific tribute to a movie that played “a large part in our childhoods.”

The BSA and other student groups organized a Tuesday night townhall meeting on the uproar.

Some 250 students turned up for quick lesson on the history of blackface from U of T professors, followed by a discussion. The bobsled group was there and submitted a written apology.

Latest From ...