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October 19th, 2009
10:49 AM ET

Morehouse dress code is more about homophobia than decorum

William Bynum says he discussed the new dress-wearing ban policy with Morehouse's campus gay organization.

William Bynum says he discussed the new dress-wearing ban policy with Morehouse's campus gay organization.

David A. Love
The Grio

Morehouse College, that legendary institution of higher learning in Atlanta, recently enacted a new dress code for its all-male student body. The dress code, called the "Appropriate Attire Policy", is a perfect example of the good, the bad, and even worse, the homophobic.

The policy – based on Morehouse President Dr. Robert M. Franklin's notion of the Renaissance Man – is part of his "Five Wells" strategy for the all-male historically black college or university which includes being "wMorehouse College, that legendary institution of higher learning in Atlanta, recently enacted a new dress code for its all-male student body. The dress code, called the "Appropriate Attire Policy," is a perfect example of the good, the bad, and even worse, the homophobic.

The policy – based on Morehouse President Dr. Robert M. Franklin's notion of the Renaissance Man – is part of his "Five Wells" strategy for the all-male historically black college or university which includes being "well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed and well balanced."

In an 11-point document, Morehouse outlined its expectations concerning the appearance of its students on campus. For example, the college forbids the wearing of do-rags, caps and hoods in classrooms and other indoor venues. Sunglasses are banned in class except for medical necessity, while "decorative orthodontic appliances," or grillz, are forbidden altogether on campus. Clothes with offensive messages are also prohibited, as are sagging pants. Students are also not allowed to wear pajamas or walk with bare feet in public.

Perhaps the most confounding, and yet revealing, part of the Morehouse rules is the ban on women's dress. "No wearing of clothing associated with women's garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at College-sponsored events," reads the policy. Placed conspicuously at the end of the dress code, and so fundamentally different from the prohibitions that precede it, one gets the sense that in the end, the dress code is really all about that one sentence.

A statement by Dr. William Bynum, Morehouse vice president for student services, seems to support the argument. "We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men," he said.

On one hand, I can understand that a school like Morehouse has a legacy to protect and a brand name to maintain. After all, this is the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, Spike Lee, and others. The value of an institution's stock rises or falls on the quality of its graduates and the leaders it produces.

Dr. Franklin described part of the Morehouse mystique Soul of Morehouse and the Future of the Mystique – abridged.pdf as "a fundamental sense of discontent with mediocrity and nonsense." In April 2009, he also told his students that "Morehouse men must be so sensitive to the presence of disorder, mediocrity and injustice that they cannot sleep well at night until they tip the scale toward justice. Unto whom much is given, much is required."

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Filed under: Ethics • Gay & Lesbian Issues
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