I'm all for freedom of expression, and I generally oppose efforts to stifle it (including most dress codes at work), but I can't find any good reason to object to Morehouse College's "Appropriate Attire Policy
The policy also bans wearing hats in buildings, pajamas in public, do-rags, sagging pants, sunglasses in class and walking barefoot on campus.
However, it is the ban on cross-dressing that has brought national attention to the small historically African-American [and all-male] college.
The restrictions aren't especially harsh, it seems to me, and, even allowing for freedom of expression, there ought to be at least minimal standards regarding public attire. Now, these standards can differ from place to place. What is allowed on a beach, for example, ought to differ from what is allowed, say, in a government building. Even then, though, beaches may allow nudity or not. The basic point is not that there ought to be a uniform standard but that, depending on place, we ought to expect that people meet at least some minimum standards of dress while in public. Our standards in Canada and the U.S., as well as throughout Europe, are fairly low, or loose, and that's fine with me. But at least there are standards.
The issue here concerns what a private institution may do, and, again, such institutions, or establishments, can and do impose their own standards, whether it's a church or a mall or an office building or a college. What is, in this case, questionable, is the crackdown on cross-dressing, given that the code could be perceived to be a crackdown on homosexuality. But cross-dressing is not the same as homosexuality, and, indeed, Morehouse consulted with the college's gay student organization, Safe Space, before instituting the policy -- its members voted overwhelmingly to support the code.
Does the code amount to a restriction of freedom of expression? Yes, of course, but it doesn't seem to me to be a burdensome one. Having spent many years on college campuses -- Tufts and then Toronto -- as well as having taught in university, I do see the need for such minimal standards. Now, there could very well be some college out there that allows nudity or, say, sexual attire, but, for the most part, it seems to me, the cultivation of a serious teaching, learning, and research environment requires otherwise. Morehouse's code may be a bit stricter than others, and I may not care for it myself, but, then, that's Morehouse's decision. If you don't like it, don't go there. Though, of course, it still allows for a great deal of self-expression. It's not like the college has imposed a mandatory uniform or anything.
"The policy is just saying that you have to show more respect in how you dress and there are things that are just not acceptable at Morehouse," said one student. "We have a legacy that we are trying to uphold."
Labels: clothing, education, homosexuality, universities