Much ado about student dress code

Mustafa K. Anuar

A dress code suggests a preference for uniformity over creative and individual expressions in a learning environment. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, April 9, 2024. 

IT appears that local universities have a perennial problem of not seeing eye to eye with many of their students over what they should wear in formal and informal settings. 

Quite often the universities insist that the onus is on the students to strive to look good and proper in the eyes of the public by adhering to a dress code.

This was what recently happened at Universiti Malaya, where its student groups urged the university management to withdraw new dress code that was seen as transgressing on the students’ freedom. 

A dress code suggests a preference for uniformity over creative and individual expressions in a learning environment. 

The university directive stipulates that students are to follow three sets of dress guidelines for formal events, sportswear, and daily wear.

Under formal attire, the circular shows students wearing traditional baju Melayu and baju kurung, as well as three-piece suits for men and women. 

As for sports and recreational wear, students are shown wearing tracksuits and jerseys. No shorts are depicted, meaning they are not allowed.

Finally, for daily academic activities, students are seen in formal-casual attire such as polo shirts and khaki pants.

Two students’ groups, Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth and Suara Siswa, rightly opposed the guidelines because they were considered as unreasonable and have the effect of treating students like children, which has often been the case over the years in the local academia. 

On the other hand, an Islamic group called Neo-Siswa Universiti Malaya supported the directive because it agreed that students should “always dress appropriately on campus”. This is a moot point for many students when it comes to dressing “appropriately”.

As intimated above, university students should have the freedom to express themselves intellectually as well as through what they wear. Such freedom contributes to the exciting diversity that a university worth its salt should cherish and value.

For some observers, this onslaught on freedom to wear generally reflects the larger social context where conservatism has crept into many facets of life in the last few years.

To be sure, there are other local universities that have also imposed their strict dress codes on their students. The former takes academic freedom to a new level. 

Incidentally, in an environment where internationalisation of higher education has become a mantra for many local universities, inclusivity and diversity should become all the more important.

Foreign students bring in diverse cultural practices and ideas that should be regarded as an asset to the universities concerned.

Straight-jacketing students in this manner is counterproductive, if not mind-boggling.

Students should generally be entrusted to make an intelligent and informed decision about what to wear appropriately for certain occasions.

Surely, you wouldn’t expect them to wear for a formal function something that you would for a costume party. That would be undermining their intelligence.

Graduation ceremonies, which are supposedly the most exciting moments for graduands, can and has become a hot issue when certain universities insist on their respective dress codes. 

Graduands should not be compelled to wear a prescribed selection of clothes and sombre colours as if they’re going to a sorrowful event. 

A convocation is indeed an official event, but it doesn’t have to be all dull and dreary. It’s an occasion where diverse costumes can add to the joy and excitement of the moment.

Apart from baju Melayu, cheongsam, sari and native costumes should be welcomed,  especially in public universities funded by taxpayers, as these attires reflect the diversity of life outside campus.

Besides, as rightly pointed out by Suara Siswa president Abqari Annuar, a person’s attire worn under normal circumstances does not necessarily reflect his or her intelligence.

There’s a chance that some of those who now manage the local universities were once students who sported beards and long hair, pierced nostrils, worn t-shirts and jeans and sung the blues. 

There are more important and pressing issues, such as academic standards and provision and maintenance of educational facilities, that the universities ought to focus on instead.

A dress code should remind us that there can be a significant difference between form and substance. – April 9, 2024.

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  • Dress codes at institute of higher learnings? This must be a joke....I urge the Government to dismiss and sack these narrow minded Napoleons....this is plain stupid and I believe the whole will be laughing at our needs....

    Posted 3 months ago by Crishan Veera · Reply