Lack of cap and gown requirement at Emily Carr upsets students
// Gurpreet Kambo

One often sees ads from post-secondary institutions of happy students dressed up in a cap and gown, earning their degree, and perhaps with a flourish throwing their cap in the air. This is the popular North American image of a university graduate, and Shauna Woods-Gonzalez wants to have a traditional university graduation. A fourth year student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Woods-Gonzalez was not happy to hear that her alma mater does not require students to wear the traditional cap and gown for graduation.

“[The cap and gown] is symbolic, and it is something I have imagined for many years,” she says. “[It] also represents the graduates as professionals, as we should be when we graduate. I, along with many other dedicated students, find that this trivializes our education and significance of graduation.”

The lack of a cap and gown requirement is one that was decided upon by students themselves. Several years ago, the provincial government amended the B.C. University Act, changing the status of several post-secondary institutions to that of a University, which mandated many changes at these schools.

“When we received University status in 2008, we polled students about whether they would like to wear a cap and gown at convocation,” says Barry Patterson, Executive Director of Communications at Emily Carr University. “The majority of those who responded did not wish to wear a cap and gown, and since this time, the matter has not come up. To address those that wished to have formal attire, the University created scarves for the event, which reflect the specific degree awarded.”

However, Woods-Gonzalez feels that this is too important of a tradition to be left to a survey, particularly one done so long ago: “Not only do I find this a matter to not be surveyed, I do not think that a survey from over five years ago is relevant to the current demographic of students. The cap and gown is a symbol and tradition and is not questioned at any other university I have heard of,” she says. “Opinions vary throughout individual demographics … What I find interesting is how this issue was even brought up for discussion. I could not see any other university putting this up for discussion.”

Despite the lack of dress code, Emily Carr does encourage students to dress formally for the event: “The majority have worn formal or semiformal attire, but others have chosen to wear attire that reflects their personal style or cultural background,” says Patterson. Emily Carr being an Arts institution, some students may use the event to express their creativity, or personal quirks.

“Due to the certain individuality of our student body, certain individuals take the event as an opportunity to make a statement,” says Woods-Gonzalez. “Last year, one student arrived in her pajamas. Not only is this an absolute embarrassment for myself as a student of the university, it is appalling to the school and graduating class in its entirety.”

Patterson notes that, in the past, this decision was made democratically, and that the university is open to instituting the requirement, if the students will it. However, Emily Carr has never had a cap and gown requirement for their graduation ceremony.

“If the majority of students want to wear gowns, then we will accommodate their request, if time and resources permit us to do so for this year. If not, we will certainly address it for next year’s convocation ceremony,” he says. To this end, Woods-Gonzalez has been in contact with the students’ union about doing another student survey.

However, Woods-Gonzalez is aware that another survey of the students may fail to meet result she wishes. Regardless of whether or not she is successful, she still wishes to attend her convocation in the traditional attire – if she can get a group of people to show up together in cap and gowns. “I think it would look strange if I was the only one in a cap and gown!” she notes.

“I find it upsetting that most people I have discussed this with, including students, say, ‘What do you expect? You go to art school,’” says Woods-Gonzalez. “The problem is, I do not go to art school; I go to an accredited art university. I am getting my undergraduate degree, just as anyone else would at UBC, Capilano, or SFU. I do not think the image of a casual convocation represents us as the outstanding arts university that Emily Carr is. If our school took this more seriously, so would the students.”

Until a survey is completed, it appears as though cap and gowns will remain voluntary.

“I want to change this frivolous altering of tradition,” Woods-Gonzalez says. “I have been imagining my undergraduate convocation for many years, and the way my school has decided to approach the ceremony is not only disappointing, but a complete embarrassment.”

//Gurpreet Kambo, news editor
//Graphics by Jason Jeon

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