Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
We've all done it: rolled out of bed, seen the time, realized we have five minutes to get to class and ran out the door in pajamas. This phenomenon is so common I can confidently say not a day goes by when there isn't someone — sometimes myself — in sweatpants or athletic wear in one of my classes.
However, this academic year I have made a resolution. I will try to dress in business casual clothing to all my classes, and I believe the University of Maryland should encourage more formal attire in classrooms.
When I began thinking about this idea, I was walking to my class in T-shirt and shorts, listening to a podcast about office dress codes. If most American businesses require a dress code, I wondered, why don't academic institutions?
Businesses require dress codes for a variety of reasons, but it often comes down to how corporations want their employees perceived. When representing a company, employers want their employees to make good impressions, and a well-dressed person is seen as more competent than a casually dressed person.
Why should academic institutions be any different? This university has a vested commercial interest in making positive impressions for both donors and prospective students. Additionally, in some respects, more formal attire can improve productivity and abstract thinking.
There is a secondary, but no less important, reason why dress codes are important: respect. Our clothes reveal our attitudes toward the events we attend them in. Every student has probably heard the platitude "Dress for the job you want." We assume dressing nicely shows a commitment and deference for a certain position or institution. That's why our culture expects formal attire for most job interviews, religious services and business meetings.
When we dress properly, we are trying to respect the people we're interacting with and the environment we're in. For example, if I were to wear pajamas to meet the president, I would be portraying a message that the office of the presidency wasn't worth my respect.
So do our professors and teachers not deserve respect? Even if we don't like them personally, they hold positions of authority; by wearing inappropriate attire, we disclose we don't care about their class or respect the knowledge they convey. At an institution of higher learning, we should have higher standards for our students.
Many argue dress codes limit freedom of expression and are more restrictive for women. To challenge that argument, there remain many ways for students to express themselves even with a dress code. While not in the legal sense but in the realm of ethics, the value of respect may supersede the value of expression when it comes to classroom dress.
Sexism is not inherent to the concept of dress codes, and there are many ways to make standards of attire fair for people regardless of gender. For example, universities can encourage business casual attire without narrowing the guidelines so that students can decide for themselves what is appropriate or not. In this way, students can maintain autonomy in their dress while showing respect to their professors and the institution.
To be fair, I don't always succeed in my resolution. Sometimes I still go to class in pajamas or athletic wear, and I don't expect all students to dress nicely all the time. Furthermore, I don't want or expect this university to mandate such a policy. However, I do believe encouraging more sensitive class uniforms could promote respect for the campus, our professors and this institution.
Moshe Klein is a junior economics and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.