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The Politics of Campus Dress Code

My dress, my choice but...

BY Agnes Amondi

Jan 30, 2023, 09:13 PM

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The one thing that separates a higher learning institution from the junior levels is the degree of freedom students enjoy. 

Some of us burn our school uniforms or give them away after we graduate from high school, something we find very relieving. Many people feel that uniforms strip them of the ability to express themselves and be unique.  

This is one of the things that makes university life much more appealing and enjoyable as it allows students to decide what they want to put on. Most universities across the country give students this room but it seems as though some students have forced higher learning institutions to think twice.

The University of Eldoret (UoE) is the latest institution to impose a dress code on its students after Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) banned its female students from wearing tumbo cuts or crop tops, dreadlocks and miniskirts and its male population from sagging trousers and wearing dreadlocks among other things.

Have university students crossed the line or is it a case of universities being too conservative? We examine.

Too Much Freedom?

The perception has always been that when you get to the university level, you are mature enough to know what you want and make good judgements. Thus, the loosening up of some of the very strict guidelines you had to put up with in high school. 

Be that as it may, it seems as though there needs to be a bit more policing to ensure that accountability remains. I wouldn’t define it as too much freedom. I think it’s a matter of some students’ desire to test boundaries and see how much they can get away with. 

What’s The Problem With Showing Some Skin?

Photo by Femi Gabriels:
Let's get this out of the way. Female students are not to blame for the lack of control of their male counterparts. That said, some of the clothes that have been banned are said to be a source of destruction and not appropriate for a class setting anyway.
Some female students also report that they are uncomfortable around their fellow female students who “show too much skin”. You can argue that "too much skin" is relative but I think for the most part, we'll have a consensus about how much is too much.
The thing is that people will rarely speak up when they are uncomfortable as they desire to maintain peace but their reactions tell it all. After all, you are in class for an hour and 40 minutes (my campus) or two to three hours for others.

Regardless, most of us know that one student we shared a class with and when they walked in, everyone had some sort of expression.

I had a female classmate who once voiced her thoughts against certain types of dressing and it didn’t end well for her. She was questioned for allowing her eyes to see what she wasn’t supposed to instead of concentrating in class.

Are The Rules Sexist?

Whilst most people will hear about a dress code and immediately say that female students are being penalised, male students have their own set of rules to follow. As such, the rules seek to place everyone on an equal playing field. Isn’t this a good thing? 

My Dress My Choice?

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Dress codes are not new. Even liberal workplaces, if I can describe them as such, still have their own dos and don’t around dressing. Therefore, it’s a mandate that can help students learn how to operate within certain guidelines and not get shocked when they are required to abide by such laws after they graduate from campus. A bit of playfulness is OK but when it’s too much - and that means once you go outside what’s required - it’s an issue.

What Right Do They Have?

“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” Oliver Wendell Holmes gave us that. What that means in this context is that your dress impacts how people interact and behave towards you. 

Before we move on, let's make this clear - this is not an excuse for anyone to abuse another. 

We’ve all seen this in play. People might want to be around you and will have a certain perception of you based on how you are dressed. Institutions have every right to tell their stakeholders how they should behave as it impacts their image. 

It’s not merely that students can’t wear what they want. It’s the nonverbal communication it conveys about different parties involved.

What say you? Send your opinions to [email protected]

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