Formal educations aside, professors are a casual crew

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Cartoon by Victor Santander

Cartoon by Victor Santander

Humans would like to think they are civilized, but they are just dressed up animals. Professors might be some of the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom, but they follow the fashion laws of the urban jungle like the rest.
Despite the dangers that wearing the wrong clothes can attract in the real world, in academia there is nothing to gain from having a dress code. Professors can look like anyone and the stereotype of professors being balding, bespectacled grey-haired men in sweater vests is going extinct. A diverse group of instructors of all colors, shapes, sizes and both sexes are filling the ecological niche.
Clothing is a personal message in a nonverbal language that demands or suggests a number of things. Instructors use their clothes to convey their degree of professionalism, how seriously they take their job, or simply their interests beyond education.
It would be unjust to judge an instructor and their course based on their clothes alone.
Dr. Mark Van Stone teaches art history at Southwestern College, and even though he dresses in a t-shirt and jeans almost every day, the shirts he wears are about more than just being comfortable. As a calligrapher and expert in hieroglyphs, Van Stone wears t-shirts that feature designs of his own creation.
Just because an instructor likes to dress up, it does not mean they are necessarily trying to look good for their students. Some professors might be dressing down as a defense mechanism against students who might negatively criticize their instructors for dressing beyond their expectations. Female professors in general are judged far more often for their style and receive more comments on how they dress from their students than their male coworkers.
Professor Vivien Vaughan dresses well every day and uses matching jewelry she made herself to complement her outfits. Even though she teaches the humanities and might be expected to dress more casually, her style is certainly not casual. Vaughan wears necklaces with large precious stones without appearing gaudy and can dress in all the same color without being boring. She certainly dresses up compared to other, more lax instructors, but she is not an intimidating figure and her clothes have little to do with class material or moral.
Some instructors are not trying to look good. SWC is a particularly casual campus and it is understandable that some instructors have abandoned the suit-and-tie look for something a bit more comfortable. No one wants to teach a class wearing that many layers, especially when there’s a chance the classroom might not have air conditioning.
At SWC, students learn that the clothes do not reflect the intellectual power of the wearer.
M.K. Asante, a professor at Morgan State University, dresses in the style of his hometown Philadelphia. When he spoke at SWC, he wore a snap-back, a leather jacket hoodie, denim jeans and tan boots of the steel toe variety.
Asante can dress as casual as he wants and no one can erase the books he’s written or the films he’s produced.
The fashion world is not without prejudice. Despite Asante’s accomplishments, others judge the clothes he wears and they way he talks and make assumptions. Such criticisms might be an attack on his professionalism, but in truth he is being criticized for his race and his decision to not talk and dress white.
Everyone deserves to wear what they want, even instructors who have a responsibility to provide a good learning environment for their students. But if a student thinks their instructor’s fashion choices are their business, then they should focus on their studies instead.
Some students might assume a well-dressed instructor could provide a better learning environment, but it is unlikely that students would follow suit and dress up themselves. Too many people enjoy coming to class in their pajamas. Other students find overdressed instructors intimidating and a casual instructor can appear more relatable and approachable to their students.
There certainly is a place for uniforms in society, but in academia where the focus is the meeting of minds, all a dress code does is discriminate.
Instructors do not have a responsibility to their students to dress up, but instead their wardrobe should suggest the career behind the subject. Some careers require a certain dress code just to get by, but those careers tend to be less about the individual.
Doctors, firefighters, police officers and judges are a few careers known for their distinctive uniforms, but the uniform is to identify those individuals as representatives of the state and that their career is, at heart, a public service. The person behind the uniform is less important than the uniform itself.
It is much different for college professors.
While many see community college as a public service, professors are not defined by a common dress code. Instructors are valued for their intelligence and their teaching ability, so there is little value in making these unique minds dress in the same outfits all the time.
It might make students feel better about spending thousands of dollars on their education if their professors are dressed like politicians, but for the instructors themselves the result would be stifling for all who do not dress formally.
Students might think that a well-dressed professor is better, but a three-piece suit can make a professor more intimidating and make their time seem more valuable. Casual instructors are more approachable and relatable to their students than the stuffy professors of old who would act like their students questions were a waste of time.
Students should appreciate professors who treat their students with respect, and not gravitate to professors who use clothing to demand respect from their students.

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