A group of students at Oxford University are calling for a ban on scholars’ gowns, arguing that the “hierarchical structure” conflicts with the university’s “ideals of community and equality.”
The distinguished scholars’ gowns, long-sleeved robes worn during exams, signify when a student has achieved academic success, including being awarded a scholarship or performing well on exams.
Students opposed to the gowns argue that many “are made to feel uncomfortable and nervous by the presence of a visual reminder of what they might perceive as their academic inferiority.”
Students also maintain that there is a gender bias involved; men are disproportionately awarded gowns, especially in STEM subject areas.
“I walk into the tent and it’s all the boys wearing the gowns,” one student told the Cherwell. “I already feel inferior being a girl here, let alone a woman of colour, and to just be reminded of every alienating feeling while standing in the tent is the most disheartening thing before an exam.”
Students in support of the gowns argue that the gowns can be achieved at many points in one’s academic career at Oxford, and that while inequalities may exist, removal of the gowns shelters students from the reality of life.
“It is not the University’s responsibility to ensure equality of outcome, but its purpose is surely to provide equality of opportunity,” undergraduate Thomas Munro wrote in an opposing editorial piece.
Students voted down the student union’s motion to call for the removal of the robes, although the final call will be made by Student Union council in October.