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Fashion sense

Students can learn from the Indian Student Association’s response to a recent conflict over dress code

Inflexible adherence to policy and lack of communication help explain a recent incident at the X-Lounge, which has come under fire for denying a Sikh student entrance to an Indian Student Association party because of his refusal to remove a head covering worn for religious purposes. The events that followed expose the complexity of a situation in which both parties had good intentions, and the actions of ISA members and of the X-Lounge’s staff suggest ways the University community can deal with similar challenges in the future.

Last Thursday’s incident at the X-Lounge brings to light old problems; in 2006, University students protested a controversial dress code implemented at Jabberwocky (now No. Three) that prohibited plain white t-shirts and baggy jeans and seemed to discriminate against individuals who dressed a certain way. Clearly, the establishment of dress codes has been problematic in a college town that brings together people of many different backgrounds and cultural traditions.

Dress codes exist to ensure the safety and comfort of a venue’s patrons, and fundamentally, an appropriate dress code will make sense. Yes, weapons can be concealed in certain articles of clothing, but unless t-shirt manufacturers begin designing shirts with hidden pockets or other ways to disguise one’s intent to do harm, banning white t-shirts to “protect” customers or “preserve an atmosphere” wouldn’t make sense.

In this particular case, the X-Lounge’s policy itself made sense, but the staff’s application of the policy was misguided. Like many other venues, the X-Lounge’s policy targets hats. X-Lounge staff explained the policy in an e-mail, saying, “We have a no head wear policy in place after 9pm as we feel that it was appropriate for the style of our establishment.” The policy goes on to clarify that head wear is prohibited in all circumstances “unless it is absolutely apparent that it is required for religious or medical reasons.” The current policy makes room for the appropriate exceptions, but X-Lounge staff and management demonstrated a regrettable lack of common sense in applying their own rules Thursday night. Here, application — not clarity — was the root of the problem.

Despite everyone’s good intentions, such incidents are unlikely ever to disappear thanks to murky phrasing and misinterpretation, but students can continue to make progress toward preventing similar problems by taking preemptive action and asking for full disclosure of a venue’s rules so that they do not face the same predicament when hosting a party. Proactively working with a third-party venue in advance of an event is preferable to reacting to a problem once it has occurred, and the best way to do this is to be fully aware of what a restaurant or club’s rules and regulations entail.

ISA members demonstrated wise judgment by responding to the situation in a composed manner; most students at the party indicated their dissatisfaction with the X-Lounge’s policy by promptly leaving the event and by making the incident known to the broader student body in the next few days. By engaging in dialogue with the X-Lounge and the University community, the ISA has set up a structure for positive change.

Neither the ISA nor the X-Lounge set out to make trouble for the other party Thursday night, but both groups have responded to the situation with admirable speed and action. If such an incident happening again is indeed inevitable, the fallout from Thursday’s event offers guidelines for improvement both sides could learn from.

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