Dress code and search for moral sanity on campuses
Academic scholarship is waning in many Nigerian universities as students and teachers are caught in the web of corruption and cheating. Thrown into that mix is the burden of deciding for students what they wear and when, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL.
Like a caryatid, the bent figure revealed rotund buttocks as the transparent top held tightly to her.
Away from the hostel, a bevy of ladies in skimpy skirts and tight-fitting tops walked across the quadrangle – expectedly, some heads followed them. Seated at the quadrangle was a young bosomy lady whose chest was making it difficult for others to pay attention to a conversation.
The conversation is age-old that indecent dressing is the cause of sexual harassment on campuses. There are no empirical facts to support that as experiences have shown that randy teachers in higher institutions often prefer to go for well-dressed, vulnerable female students.
Yet, the crisis – though often seen as a female problem – of indecent dressing and grooming is not something Nigerian universities are taking lying down. Male students have also been guilty by their sloppy, indecorous dress and grooming.
It is against this backdrop in 2018 that the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) constituted a committee to look into the modalities for the enforcement of a dress code for members of staff and students of the institution, according to Dr. Rasheed Jimoh, the Dean of the Faculty of Communication and Information Sciences (CIS).
Jimoh noted that the faculty would rely on the contributions and commitment of members of the committee toward ensuring total compliance with the university’s dress code, to guard against indecent dressing on campus.
The dean noted that the committee had earlier held its inaugural meeting, where members expressed commitment to achieving the objectives of the code, adding that various strategies have been mapped out to ensure the success of the committee’s assignment.
“The committee, however, charged all staff and students to always abide by the rules and regulations governing dressing on campus as sanctions will be applied on erring staff and students,” he said.
However, media reports in October 2018 indicated that controversy trailed the attempt by the authorities of the University of Ibadan (UI) to foist a dress code on the institutions, which was particularly targeted at female students resident at Queen Elizabeth II Hall.
After allegations of indecent dressing were levelled against some female students in the hostel, the school’s management issued a notice, saying: “It has come to the notice of Management that some ‘Queenites’ dress indecently. This is to reiterate that the hall and the university management are against such act. Henceforth, any student caught indecently dressed will be warned after which such a student will be immediately ejected from the hall.”
However, not all students were happy with that direction as reported by an online newspaper. For example, Alli Zainab, a 100-level student of the Department of Early Childhood Education, described the management’s decision as surprising.
She argued that the students are adults and should not be told what to wear. But a senior hall supervisor, who identified herself as Mrs. Odu, supported the institution’s direction the way students dress.
“I’m a female and a mother. If we cannot correct them at this stage, then we don’t know where the world is heading. A female student will dress putting on just a top without pants even when the top will only cover her bum a bit,” she claimed.
She further described an occasion when a male gardener was caught looking at a female student who was washing at the tap without a pant on.
“This hostel is not for harlots and also not a place for nude. This is a place meant for students to reside and study,” she said.
Odu pointed out that the students had been asked to pay fines on several occasions but refused to change, resulting in the management’s latest direction. Not done with her castigation of the students, she added: “Some students will even go extra mile to insult you, claiming that it’s their parents that bought the indecent clothes for them.”
When asked if she was against indecent dressing only in Queen Elizabeth II hall or in the university campus as a whole, she responded that same thing applied to all other female halls as they have taken steps to that effect.
Private universities are making a success of enforcing dress codes on their students. Upon admission, prospective students are usually made to sign an undertaking to follow the rules respecting dress and grooming; what to wear and when to wear it.
Some have argued that as adults, undergraduates should be allowed to wear whatever they feel like putting on. Some schools – apart from private institutions – are setting the rules for their students.
Weighing in on the issue of dress and grooming, two experts, Esther Mofoluwawo and Toyin Oyelade, regard clothing as a basic need of humans meant primarily for covering and not fashion.
“Clothing is not meant for beauty. Beauty is within that radiates without,” they argued. “In every society, primitive, developing or developed community, there are certain accepted standards of dressing that are considered right, proper and appropriate, while other forms of clothing are looked upon as wrong, improper or inappropriate.”
The experts noted that higher institutions of learning in Nigeria are facing challenges associated with indecent dressing among undergraduates on campuses “at an unprecedented rate”, leading to institutions reeling out dress codes for their students.
Mofoluwawo and Oyelade also affirmed what indecent dress and grooming is.
“Indecent dressing means putting on offensive, unbecoming, improper clothes. Experts pointed out that the issue of indecent dressing is critical and a complete deviation from traditional purpose of putting on clothes. They stress further that there is a dress code that specifies that ladies should be dressed in a way that would not be nudity, exposure of chest, cleavages back and middle thighs.
“The reason is because the sight of a lady half nude sends sexual signal to the brain of the guys who if not able to control themselves resort to rape of such a lady. One education expert asserted that students who resorted to be wearing clothes for the purpose of embarrassing their male counterparts sexually have completely deviated from the purpose of wearing clothes and even
Nigerian culture,” they said in a study.
In Abia State University (ABSU), students are barred from wearing skin-tight clothes, sagging trousers, dresses with a plunging cleavage and the so-called ‘spaghetti’ sleeveless top. Similarly, leggings and other fitted trousers are not allowed on campus, as well as skirts that do not reach down the knees.
Christiana Okike, a 300-level student of Library and Information Science, ABSU, said: “In my school, the issue about dress code is very serious because if you don’t obey these rules, you can be sexually harassed and even sent back home by the school security to change into a suitable outfit.”
Jackson Omenazu, a human rights activist, believes that students have a moral responsibility to dress appropriately.
“I think the students should dress properly, decently and responsibly. It is not proper to see a female student exposing all or part of her body, which ought to be private inside the classroom or a male student going to the class as a university undergraduate wearing earrings and trousers, which barely cover his buttocks.
“The university should be a place to mould character where responsible behaviour should be inculcated. In the end, these students will graduate to become ambassadors of these institutions of higher learning. So, when we say somebody is a graduate, it is not just because of the certificate. He is expected to have some moral and responsible conduct attached to his degree,” Omenazu said.
In his view, if the university authorities fail to prescribe a dress code, the student would graduate without a good sense of dress and grooming. Yet, he admitted that he was not asking that the students should wear a uniform like primary and secondary school pupils.
He added: “There is nothing wrong with the prescription of dress code for university students in order to stem the increasing rag culture and indecent dressing by some university students.”
A lecturer, Abechi Ikpeme, who teaches in one of the northern Nigeria’s elite tertiary institutions, thinks the introduction of a dress code for students in tertiary institutions is a welcome development. To him, schools at all levels should inculcate sound morals in young children and adults alike.
“To my mind, this should form part of the process of teaching and learning. This is particularly true for our tertiary institutions where the mode of dressing among our young women has fast degenerated into a contest of near nudity. You will see girls wearing clothes, which barely cover their nakedness. Some of them copy wrongly from foreign cultures. Some of the clothes they wear are clothes music stars wear on stage during performances but our young women wear such clothes to attend lectures.
“The young men are not left out, you see a young man wearing trousers which barely cover his underwear all in the name of fashion. This should not be allowed to continue if we are genuinely interested in building future leaders. I will advise authorities of institutions of higher learning to enforce dress codes as part of the learning process. Learning begins with the observance of little laws and conventions, our society will have no future if we don’t pay attention to these little details.”
Not everyone thinks it is a good idea for institutions to determine the dress code for students. One of such persons is Gideon Nwaoko, an educationist, arguing that a university environment should not be regimented because that can be detrimental to the liberal thoughts and concepts such institutions stand for.
“It is not right for authorities of universities to prescribe dress codes for students. That is absurd. It is also demeaning to the status of the students who are being prepared for future leadership roles. According to the admission regulations set by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), an applicant is expected to be at least 16 years old by October 1 of the year of admission.
“What this means is that a student coming into the university is expected to be mature enough to take responsibility for his or her actions. So, if they are still ordered around or certain norms are imposed on them against their will, it means they are still not ripe enough to be responsible for their actions,” Nwaoko said.
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