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The House Rules

Morehouse College has laid down the law.  And not a moment too soon…

As has been widely reported in many of the major national news outlets, the storied all-male private college, known as “Harvard of the South,” has issued a sweeping dress code for all of its 2,700 students.  In case you haven’t seen it, the policy is printed in its entirety here.


Morehouse College Appropriate Attire Policy October 2009

Published in The Maroon Tiger

It is our expectation that students who select Morehouse do so because of the College’s outstanding legacy of producing leaders. On the campus and at College-sponsored events and activities, students at Morehouse College will be expected to dress neatly and appropriately at all times.

Students who choose not to abide by this policy will be denied admission into class and various functions and services of the College if their manner of attire is inappropriate. Examples of inappropriate attire and/or appearance include but are not limited to:

1. No caps, doo-rags and/or hoods in classrooms, the cafeteria, or other indoor venues. This policy item does not apply to headgear considered as a part of religious or cultural dress.

2. Sun glasses or “shades” are not to be worn in class or at formal programs, unless medical documentation is provided to support use.

3. Decorative orthodontic appliances (e.g. “grillz”) be they permanent or removable shall not be worn on the campus or at College-sponsored events.

4. Jeans at major programs such as, Opening Convocation, Commencement, Founder’s Day or other programs dictating professional, business casual attire, semi-formal or formal attire.

5. Clothing with derogatory, offense and/or lewd messages either in words or pictures.

6. Top and bottom coverings should be worn at all times. No bare feet in public venues.

7. No sagging the wearing of one’s pants or shorts low enough to reveal undergarments or secondary layers of clothing.

8. Pajamas shall not be worn while in public or in common areas of the College.

9. No wearing of clothing associated with women’s garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at College-sponsored events.

10. Additional dress regulations may be imposed upon students participating in certain extracurricular activities that are sponsored or organized by the College (e.g. athletic teams, the band, Glee Club, etc).

11. The college reserves the right to modify this policy as deemed appropriate.

*All administrative, faculty, students and support staff members are asked to assist in enforcing this policy and may report disregard or violations to the Office of Student Conduct.”


As you might imagine, the institutional decree has caused quite a stir — and it has been met with mixed reviews.  Some argue that the policy is draconian and designed to stifle self-expression. Others — present company included — view the stance of the Morehouse administration as courageous and long overdue.  (The only thing missing is a restriction on conspicuous tattoos!)


Of course, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others, everyone has the right to live as they will.  And certainly young adults have the right to dress according to their personal tastes; however, Morehouse is a private college.  As such, it should have the right to impose whatever standards deemed appropriate for its student body (as long as bodily harm is not involved).  Mind you, anyone unable to abide by the said rules also has the absolute right to matriculate elsewhere.


Still, many are not happy about what I call “The House Rules.”


Although the restrictions are wide-ranging, it is the ban on female attire at the legendary men’s college that has generated the most headlines — and the most controversy.  A report, “All-male college cracks down on cross-dressing,” cites Dr. William Bynum, Morehouse College vice president for Student Services, who made the following statement: “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress [in]a way we do not expect in Morehouse men.” 


Bynum assured CNN that the administration met with the members of the college’s “gay organization,” Morehouse Safe Space.  “We talked about it and then they took a vote,” he said. “Of the 27 people in the room, only three were against it.”


Case closed, right?  Not so fast. 


The blogosphere is buzzing with posts decrying “homophobia” at “The House,” as Morehouse is fondly known.  TheGrio, NBC Universal’s new African American-themed Web site, ran the following column:   


“Morehouse dress code is more about homophobia than decorum.”


It is too easy, though, to get bogged down in the salacious aspects of the Morehouse ban but that misses the bigger picture.  This is the deal as I see it.  If appearances—and graduation rates—are any indication, far too many of our young people—male and female—have lost their, well, their minds.  Many in this generation are so caught up in urban America’s hip-hop-inspired, thug-life miasma that they are in desperate need of a clarion call. 


And just in the nick of time, Morehouse College has provided just that.  Hopefully, other school officials — starting in K-12 — will follow suit.  Personally, I think Drs. Benjamin E. Mays and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be pleased.  What say you?


Dr. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.


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