Dressed to Suppress

by by Beatrice Igne-Bianchi

Last week, the private all-male, historically black Morehouse College introduced a new dress code that bans its students from wearing what is categorized as women’s clothing, make-up, shoes, and purses. The banishment of “cross-dressing” is one facet of the college’s new Appropriate Attire Policy. The policy also forbids Morehouse students from walking around the Atlanta, Georgia campus barefoot, from wearing do-rags, saggy pants, or pajamas, and from sporting sunglasses in the classroom.

But Dr. William Bynum, vice president of the college’s Student Services, said the ban on wearing dresses and items that are normally considered women’s attire is targeted at a tiny group among the already small student body of 2,700.

While this part of the dress code is aimed at the “five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” Bynum also stated that before the ban went into effect, he met with Safe Space, the gay-straight student alliance on campus.

“We talked about it and then they took a vote,” he said, as reported on “Of the 27 people in the room, only three were against it.”

Student Jordan-Alexander Smith, Morehouse ’12, said in an email to the Independent that the Appropriate Attire Policy has “gotten more than its share of media attention, but the vibe on campus is more focused around this media attention rather than the dress code itself.”

Smith believes the new dress code is appropriate. “As the only all-male black college in the world, image is very important to the college. At the end of the day, the college is still a business that relies on donations from investors, alumni, and attracting future students.” His opinion is that “the continued existence and success of the college is more important” than catering to a few students.

Senior Devon Watson told that he disagrees with parts of the new policy, especially those that tell students what they can wear outside the classroom.
“I feel that there will be a lot of resentment and backlash,” Watson said. “It infringes on the students’ freedom of expression. I matriculated successfully for three-and-half years dressing so how is this a problem?”

But Smith said that while “carrying a purse” may not make you less of a Man of Morehouse, “the question then becomes, can you still lead? Or more importantly, will you be followed?” He believes that conforming is not the answer, but that “in order for us to lead whom we represent—the black community—as well as others, it is our responsibility to look the part.”

Morehouse has produced such notable leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., actor Samuel Jackson, and film director Spike Lee.

“Although LGBTQ culture has become increasingly mainstream, I can’t honestly say the mainstream is ready to follow a black man in heels,” said Smith.