Students vote in OUSU’s sub fusc referendum


Students are voting in a University-wide referendum on whether to keep sub fusc clothing for university exams.

Alternate campaign groups ‘Subfusc Off’ and ‘Save Sub Fusc’ have been petitioning throughout the University, holding hustings in numerous locations over the past week.

From 8am on Wednesday 20th May to 6pm on Friday 22nd, students will vote on whether the traditional university clothing, worn for examinations, matriculation and graduation, ought to remain compulsory during examinations.

OUSU council proposed the motion in March with 58 votes in favour of holding a referendum versus 10 against and 1 abstention.

One leading member of the Save Sub Fusc Campaign commented: “We set up Save Subfusc because we are passionate about this tradition in Oxford. It is a superb leveller, everyone who is a student in Oxford, regardless of their background, race, gender or sexuality, has earned the right to wear their gown, and it puts everyone on an equal footing.”

An OxStu poll from last month suggests student will vote to keep the traditional clothing, with almost 70% expressing support for the status quo, against only 22% saying they will vote to make sub fusc non-compulsory.

“It also provides a sense of community between colleges. Our fear is that if Sub fusc is made non-compulsory, the arguments being made that it is elitist or exclusionary will become accepted, and people who want to wear it will feel overwhelming pressure not to. This happened at Cambridge, and it would be a real shame for students who have studied here, are studying here and will study here in the future, to see such a tradition go.”

Speaking to The Oxford Student, Xavier Cohen, official leader of the ‘Sub-Fusc Off’   campaign, outlined his arguments in favour of making sub fusc non-compulsory: “Lots of people like academic dress, and they naturally think this means that they should vote ‘yes’ to keeping it compulsory. But lots of people – for a variety of reasons – find it really uncomfortable during their all-important exams.

“We’re saying that these people shouldn’t be forced to wear something uncomfortable during their finals, and that they should be able to choose to wear what makes them comfortable. If you vote ‘yes’, it’s a message that as students we endorse this damaging status-quo. By voting ‘no’, we enable those who don’t want to wear sub fusc to wear something else, and let those who do want to wear sub fusc to continue doing so.”

Hustings and debates have taken place throughout various colleges including St Hugh’s and Balliol. The latest hustings event took place on Tuesday evening at Christ Church College. Undergraduate Daniel Turner, who attended the Balliol hustings, argued that the evening was a success for the Sub Fusc Off campaign. He commented: “The vibe in the room seemed pretty unambiguous: if you want people to have just a minimal amount of choice over what they wear in exams, you have to vote ‘no’ to subfusc. Louis Trup needs a mandate for reform.  From the off, the ‘yes’ campaign conceded that an ‘opt-out’ would be desirable, but could never show us how this would be possible if we voted for the status quo.”

In the official campaign statement published on Facebook, the main arguments in support of their campaign are listed, including the notion that: “Sub fusc represents a class and a culture which feel both alien and alienating. For many who are less privileged, who are wildly underrepresented at Oxford, sub fusc is associated with an elite. An elite that is the Other, intimidating and inaccessible.”

First year History student David Lawton expressed his support of the movement commenting: “I think it is a simple reflection of Oxford’s ongoing and obsessive fetishisation of the traditional. Cambridge decided to ban formal gowns in exams- perhaps a reflection of their superior intelligence.”

Whilst 81% of student voted in favour of maintaining the tradition in 2006, the upcoming referendum reflects the desire of university officials and student representatives to respond to student opinions and concerns. It was this reasoning that resulted in the removal of gender restrictions for sub fusc which came into effect in August 2012.

Sub fusc consists of a dark suit, dark socks or stockings, a white shirt and either a white bow tie or black velvet ribbon. Since 2012, sub fusc has been gender-neutral.

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