New LGBT Rights at Oxford University

As from 3rd August 2012, the regulations concerning the wearing of academic dress when attending any university examination will no longer contain gender-specific requirements.  These changes announced on 19th July in the University Gazette were made in response to concerns from Oxford University Student Union that the existing regulations did not serve the interests of transgender students.

Comment

The reporting of these changes, which will in effect be of importance to relatively a small number of students, has been subject to sensational and inaccurate reporting by the media, and in concentrating on the possibility of men wearing skirts for university examinations, some of the main issues have been obscured.  The Oxford regulations concerning who wears what and when are set down in great detail, and are of great importance to those taking university examinations, since unlike at ‘the other university’, attendance is conditional on the wearing of correct academic dress.

The changes that have been made relate only to the wearing of subfusc – from the Latin subfuscus: sub- ‘somewhat’ + fuscus’ dark brown’, OED – the clothing worn with academic dress.  Academic dress remains the same.  In the past, transgender students who believed that the gender listed on their student record was wrong could only dress in the subfusc of the opposite gender if a special dispensation was granted by the proctors.  A number were not aware of this procedure whilst others were dissuaded from pursuing it on the grounds that it might not succeed.

Under section 5 of the amended Vice-Chancellor’s Regulations 1 of 2002:

‘All members of the University are required to wear academic dress with subfusc clothing (and candidates who are not members of the University are required to wear formal clothing) when attending any university examination, i.e. a dark suit with dark socks, or a dark skirt with black stockings or trousers with dark socks and an optional dark coat; black shoes; plain white collared shirt; a black tie or white bow tie.’

Separate provisions apply to members of the armed forces.

In contrast to the wide coverage given to these changes which affect only small numbers and will not be readily apparent to the vast majority, very little prominence was given to a gesture towards equality earlier this year in relation to the Boat Race which is seen and viewed by millions.  From 2015, the men’s and women’s Boat Race competitions will be held at the same venue and on the same day – traditionally, the women’s races were held on a shorter course at Henley, one or two weeks before the London event.  This coincides with a change in race sponsor to BNY Mellon, and the organizers’ reported aspirations of ‘breathing new life into the 157-year old event’ might suggest a degree of commercialism behind the decision.  However, parity has been achieved and furthermore the Women’s Boat Club will continue to be sponsored by Newton, a BNY Mellon company, whose CEO is known for her views on boardroom gender equality.

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