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Wearing a gown when you graduate university is the norm in the UK. However, students at Oxford University also have to wear “Academic Dress” when they sit exams.
Some high-flying individuals are even given a special “scholars’ gown,” earned by being awarded a scholarship to the university, or gaining a distinction in your first year exams. They differ from “commoners’ gowns” by being longer and having sleeves.
A few undergraduate students have called for an end to this tradition, stating that the different types of robes act as a “visual reminder of what they might perceive as their academic inferiority,” according to the Daily Mail.
These are the words of students Tilda Agace, Isobel Cockburn, and Taisie Tsikas, who wrote in a blog post on Cherwell about how differential gowns create “division in the student body,” adding that there is “also a clear gender bias in who is awarded scholars’ gowns.”
“I walk into the tent and it’s all the boys wearing the gowns,” one student said in the article. “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.”
However, others support the robe tradition, stating that nobody should feel inferior to others at Oxford because it is such a prestigious place to study anyway.
Second-year Hertford College law student Anna Lukina said in a blog post that the motion to get rid of scholars’ gowns was an insult to her hard work, because it implied she had gotten hers from privilege.
“Oxford [is] a place built on academic excellence – shunning rewarding it here seems absurd, especially since most current students have been accepted to this university by virtue of performing better than their peers,” she wrote. “The cost of gowns and disparities between different colleges in terms of scholarships/exhibitions are easier to address and will arguably make more positive impact.”
Another student, Tom Ash, told Cherwell: “I think by focusing on the gowns you’re scapegoating something which is not the most pressing issue in the system of inequality in Oxford, and getting rid of an important incentive for working in first year.”
Others have labelled the idea as “politically correct nonsense,” including Oxford alumni Ann Widdecombe.
“In case they have forgotten, Oxford is an academic institution, which recognises academic excellence,” she said.