Students vote decisively in favour of saving subfusc and gown


Students have shown mixed reactions toward a decisive student vote in favour of subfusc last week, with 76% of those who voted opting to keep the traditional gown and mortar board compulsory for university exams.

78% of voters also opted to keep the accompanying black gown compulsory.

Last week’s referendum prompted considerable student interest, with an impressive 41% turnout – considerably higher than last year’s OUSU elections.

Members of the Save Subfusc campaign welcomed the result, with first-year student Harrison Edmonds telling The Oxford Student: “We are delighted at the result, which shows that Oxford students have seen through erroneous arguments of the Subfusc Off campaign, and have seen it as the egalitarian uniform that it is.”

Edmonds’ campaign urged students to keep subfusc as an academic tradition, warning that the traditional clothing would die out once it was made non-compulsory.

The Subfusc Off campaign, in contrast, emphasised the “archaic” nature of the clothing, warning that it could discourage candidates from less privileged backgrounds from applying to Oxford, and could cause discomfort to students who do not like the uniform.

Speaking after the result, Balliol student Xavier Cohen, leader of the Subfusc Off campaign, said he was “looking forward to seeing Harrison Edmonds and the rest of the Save Subfusc team campaign to make it much easier for students to opt-out of subfusc, as the pledged during the campaign.”

Many students reacted with delight to the referendum result, with social media flooded with messages of support for the traditional academic uniform after the result was announced on Friday evening.

Not all students reacted with such approval, however, with some expressing their “embarrassment” of the Oxford student body.

Wadham student and former OUSU Presidential candidate Adam Roberts has told The Oxford Student that he is not planning to wear subfusc to his final exams this term. Writing in an OxStu comment piece published online, Roberts said that “exams should be tests of academic excellence, not your comfort with wearing subfusc,” continuing: “We have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to wear it – physicality, anxiety, class, a broader sense of ‘fitting in’, authentic gender expression, personal politics – and none of them are illegitimate. No student should have to prove to the Proctors that their reasons are adequate ones.”

In other reaction, some students took to activist Facebook group ‘The Class Room’ to discuss the potential creation of a hand-down system for gowns and mortar boards.

Last week’s support for subfusc was marginally lower than in the 2006 referendum, with 75% voting to keep the clothing compulsory, versus 81% in 2006.

The traditional academic uniform is now likely to remain in place, with another referendum not expected for a number of years.

Students of all political persuasions supported compulsory subfusc. According to data extrapolated from 578 responses to a pre-referendum OxStu survey, 89% of those students who planned to vote Conservative in this month’s General Election voted to keep subfusc compulsory, as did 70% of those who voted Labour. Oxford’s Green voters were far more balanced, in contrast, with 51% voting to keep the uniform compulsory, against 49% opting to make the clothing non-compulsory.

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