Anatomy of indecent dressing

Dress codes in institutions of higher learning

The student population in most Nigerian universities, especially at the undergraduate level, is made up of trendy teenagers most of whom are in their teens and twenties. LAOLU HAROLDS and NAZA OKOLI report that keeping these students in check dress-wise has been an uphill task for the university authorities.

IT is said that the difference between the level of supervision a child in the basic class or secondary school receives within the learning environment and that accorded an undergraduate of a higher institution of learning is determined by the level of maturity.

A child in the basic or secondary school level is seen as just a ‘child’ whose every action has to be monitored and regulated at every turn because he is passing through the formative years of his or her life. He is most vulnerable to avoidable errors and is in the most impressionable phase of his or her life.

A ‘student’ in the university, however, is deemed to have attained a level of maturity capable of equipping him with self-sustaining skills. He has become a ‘young adult’ who is able to take decisions on his own.

He is allowed to exercise his right of association (choosing which clubs or student associations to join), religion to practise, as well as the right to freely express his views.

But it’s been observed that this phase comes with its own challenges too, as a great majority of students at this level are passing through the turbulent adolescent stage. Here, self-expression is given a whole new definition and often taken to unimaginable limits. The right to association and self-expression is often abused, leading to self-destructive choices.

This is basically why most institutions still regulate (often with sanctions) conducts, including mode of dressing.

Since the early 2000s when, as if on a cue, several universities and polytechnics launched an offensive (almost a crusade) against indecent or inappropriate dressing on campuses, it has remained an integral part of the conduct of every institution of higher learning that desires to produce graduates who have qualified ‘both in character and learning.’

And with the advent of private, especially faith-based universities, the bar of the crusade against indecent dressing has been raised.

At the Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State, the Proprietor’s Prize, which is the number one prize during the convocation, goes to ‘The Most Well-Behaved Student’ – and ability to maintain decent dressing throughout the years of study in the university is a part of this.

The Public Relations Officer of the university, Mr Idris Katib, says “Good modest dressing complements good conduct. Crescent University stands for modesty, good morality and good conduct. We are not for academics alone; that is why our motto reads: ‘Citadel of Academic and Moral Excellence.’

At the Crescent University, there is a handbook on dress code and every new student is given this during the orientation programme.

“Our male students are expected to be formally dressed especially to classes and within the academic areas. They can be in shirt and trousers, properly tucked in, and preferably with a tie; or in indigenous dresses with or without a cap.

“No opening of chest or sagging of trousers is allowed. Jeans are not allowed.

“Female students are expected to wear dresses that go beyond their knees, with trousers or skirts. Such dresses should also go beyond the arm length, and must neither be transparent nor expose their cleavages.

“They can also be in suit, but must be modest. They must cover their hair at least with a scarf, not compulsorily hijab (except those who choose to). Students are forbidden to wear bathroom slippers to classes and other university events, and crazy hair styles are not allowed,” Katib said further.

Students who are deemed not appropriately dressed are sent back to the hostel by university task force; and if they are caught more than once, they are reprimanded.

At the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, the Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abiodun Olarewaju, told Sunday Tribune that students there too, are appropriately briefed during orientation programmes what the university expects from them as regards mode of dressing.


What constitutes inappropriate dressing?

Well-dressed students. Inset: A list of “indecent dressing” put up by a university
Well-dressed students. Inset: A list of “indecent dressing” put up by a university

“We don’t just want to produce students that are academically sound; we also want them to be morally upright. During our own orientation, we always tell them that they have to dress decently. And, except somebody wants to be hypocritical, we all know what decent dressing entails. We normally give them a booklet.

“You don’t just come and expose your cleavage (if you’re a woman) and you don’t expose your buttocks through sagging, in a rascally manner. We don’t encourage sagging for our young men either,” Olanrewaju told Sunday Tribune.

Is there a sanction for violating such dress regulations? Olarewaju said since the measure is corrective and not punitive, there are no harsh punishments for such infraction at OAU. Offenders are reprimanded openly and ordered back to the hostels to go and change.

“In some instances, if I see our students who dress inappropriately, I call them and ask: ‘Are you our student? Let me see your ID card.’ I collect the ID card and their phone. Then I ask them to go back to their rooms to change and come and show themselves to me.

“In some instances, we reprimand them openly, and their male colleagues see the way they have been reprimanded. This way, they normally feel embarrassed. But if they dress anyhow outside the campus, it is none of our business. Within the confines of our university, however, they must adhere strictly to our code of conduct and mode of dressing,” he said.

Sunday Tribune once witnessed firsthand how a female student almost got turned back from the gate of the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, by security officers on duty because the sleeves of her gown were deemed ‘too short’.

Spaghetti wears, skimpy and other revealing dresses are not allowed for female students of the university, Sunday Tribune gathered. And for male students, outlandish or ‘crazy hairstyles’, sagging of trousers and other inappropriate modes of dressing are disallowed.

The situation is not much different at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Mrs Emi’ Alawode, the Head, Directorate of Public Relations of the university, says there is a counseling unit within the university’s Students Affairs Directorate that mounts campaigns regularly against indecent dressing, through flyers, billboards and so on.

During the orientation programme and from time to time when there is a need to meet them (new students), the unit counsels new students against indecent dressing.

How is this enforced at FUNNAB? Mrs Alawode told Sunday Tribune that students who are caught violating the university’s regulation on appropriate dressing are invited and counseled and told to go back and change.

“For instance, a male student caught with unacceptable hairstyle is handed over to the Chief Security Officer who will make sure that such a student effects the necessary change. Often, such a student is asked to report, every morning, to the CSO’s office.

“If he is certified to be a student of FUNAAB, the CSO will hand him over to the security officers in his college who will put him under surveillance and monitor his dressing regularly before he proceeds to class,” she said.

At FUNAAB, consistent refusal, after counseling, to conform to accepted regulation on appropriate dressing and good conduct can earn a student suspension, but Alawode said: “we have not had any student that was counseled that still remained adamant.”

It would appear as if the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Lagos, has taken the campaign against indecent dressing to a new height with a comprehensive, clearly scripted regulation against it published for all to see.

Early last year, the university management published a long list of unapproved ‘modes of dressing’. The information was displayed on large banners mounted at different points on the campus.

Some of the forbidden modes were “tattered, dirty Jeans with holes and obscene or subliminal messages; baggy, saggy, yansh, ass level and over length trousers; tight fittings (for example, leggings); wearing of earings by male students; lousy, unnatural/artificial hair attachment beyond shoulder length.”

The vice chancellor, Professor Lanre Fagbohun, has, since assumption of office, been vocal in his condemnation of indecent dressing among students. Only a couple of months ago, the management said it had issued “warning letters” to 84 students for flouting the university’s dress code.

In the vice chancellor’s message to students published two weeks ago in the university’s bulletin, Fagbohun said the university’s guidelines on dressing were in line with global best practices.

“The vision to make Lagos State University (LASU) great is a collective one. The LASU of our dream is one of a university that can compete favourably with the very best Ivy League universities in the world. Globally, the dressing and appearance of a person or a group of people determines the kind of respect they would earn from others.

“It is in line with this that our dear students are expected to behave and dress in a manner that represents the university in a positive way.

“We understand and respect the natural desire for freedom as undergraduates. This, however, must be within the confines of rules and regulations of the university as have been carefully thought out pursuant to its enabling laws or by the senate of the university.

“In every vision-driven university, the students are a critical factor; they project the university culture and values; hence, the need for students to always dress properly as great ambassadors of their university.”