Students barred from college graduation because of exposed ankles: ‘You are showing too much flesh’

Two students barred from graduation for bare ankles. (Photo: Getty Images)
Two students barred from graduation for bare ankles. (Photo: Getty Images)

By Kerry Justich

A couple of alumni from Oxford University are speaking out against the school for nearly barring them from graduation when they showed up to the ceremony with bare ankles.

According to a Facebook post by Eleanor Broome, she was refused entry into her graduation ceremony in late July because she was “showing too much flesh.” The photo accompanying her status is one of her “provocative ankles,” which were cited as the issue with her particular outfit.

The dress code for the event was “sub fusc,” meaning that graduates were required to wear formal dark clothing, such as a dark suit with black socks or a dark skirt with black stockings. However, Broome tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she assumed the rule regarding socks only applied to ensembles with lace-up shoes or fully exposed legs.

I read through the regulations before my ceremony, and I thought that black trousers and black shoes would be fine given that these were stated as appropriate sub fusc,” she explains. “Black socks were also mentioned but I just assumed that this would be for lace-up shoes. I didn’t expect that they wanted us to wear black socks with our sandals or heels.”

For the hot summer day, only heels or sandals seemed appropriate to the graduate. And while nobody took issue with her exposed ankles on her way toward the Sheldonian Theatre where the ceremony was taking place, an administrator at the door told her that she wouldn’t be allowed in.

“I honestly thought he was joking. I even think I laughed and said, ‘I’m sorry, what?'” Broome recalls. “And then he said, ‘Your ankles are not covered, you are showing too much flesh. I cannot allow you in until you get the correct sub fusc.'”

The only way for Broome to get a pair of socks was to leave the graduation altogether and buy some herself, ultimately making her late to the ceremony. Luckily for Rebecca Morton, who faced the same dress code issue, a friend had a pair of socks for her to change into. However, she maintains that it shouldn’t have been a violation because it hadn’t been through the rest of her years at Oxford.

I wore the same outfit as I wore to graduation to all eleven of my exams and no university officials raised any issues with it, even though part of the invigilators’ job at examinations is to police subfusc,” Morton explains. “As a result I assumed the outfit was fine and wore it to graduation – hence my anger and confusion when I wasn’t allowed into the ceremony.”

Yet, more anger was directed at the fact that violations were only called against women.

“There weren’t any men refused entry that I saw, it was all of us women in trousers,” Broome says. “I later found out that there were about ten women refused entry at this particular ceremony.”

Morton additionally argues that there were “misogynistic undertones” in the way that the violation was brought to her attention.

“I was particularly upset by the use of the phrase ‘showing flesh’ by two individual university officials as an explanation for why I was not allowed in,” she says. “Fortunately that phrase doesn’t appear in the dress code, but it and similar phrases have on several occasions that I know of, been offered as the reason for barring entry to female students.”

It wouldn’t be the first time students have expressed concern over dress codes being gender-bias. In fact, the ACLU has been involved in a number of dress code cases within the United States, helping schools to ensure that regulations are enforced equally amongst men and women.

Oxford University tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the sub fusc tradition will continue, as outlined on their website, and in additional notices that were provided to students prior to the summer graduation.

“The note went out to College Deans of Degrees at the start of summer as a reminder of the dress code for degree ceremonies,” a university spokesperson says. “The note was intended to avoid delays to ceremonies, as a courtesy to everyone attending. We are not aware of any significant delays as a result this year.”

Both Broome and Morton were ultimately able to sit for their graduation ceremonies, once they acquired the proper socks and stockings for under their trousers. However, the women say that their graduation has “tainted” their overall experience at the university.

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