Teaching Us How They Dress

By Sharlene Joesph

Have you ever mistaken your professor for a student on the first day of class? Fashion is not John Jay’s number one priority, academics and education are. But, without enforcing a set dress code, does this mean that professors can dress as casual as they want?

The back of the graduate and professional fair flyer defines business casual attire as “Slightly more casual than professional, interview-worthy clothing but not as casual as what you wear regularly to class. Business casual is crisp, neat, and should look appropriate even for a chance meeting with a CEO. It should not look like a cocktail or party or picnic attire…Business casual is classic rather than trendy.”

“Professors dressing casual make it easier for the students to relate to them,” said transfer student Jayme Gooberdhan. “When a professor dresses too professionally they automatically demand respect from students to know that they are the authoritative figure,” Gooberdhan said.

Communication and Theater Arts professor Margit Edwards, dresses in a very casual manner to create less of an authoritarian classroom for students to be more comfortable when participating in drama activities.  “This makes her more approachable,” said Axel Rodriguez, a junior. Edwards dresses comfortably enough to be able to move around swiftly to interact with students in the Black Box theater room,Kevin Nesbitt, the Director of Faculty Services, does not think there is a specific dress code for students and faculty. “I do imagine we expect faculty to wear comfortable clothing that allows them to teach their best and that fits with their pedagogical style,” said Nesbitt. “If you are a super energetic faculty member that rushes from side to side and front to back in a classroom and never sits during a course no matter what the activity, I envision wearing shoes with some athletic support would be recommended attire but, again not required,” he said.

India Sanders, a John Jay sophomore, explains that students can feel intimidated, or accepted, depending on the professors outfit on the first day. She recalled on her first day 3 out of her 5 professors dressed professionally. She prefers her professors to dress casual but not too casual in order to stand out from the students. “Professors that dress in business attire show respect to the academic field and the students,” Sanders said.

When it comes to a professors attire, John Jay senior Leon Moore said, “It depends on what course they’re teaching.” Moore aspires to be a lawyer. His major requires many law classes, and he said, “It would be nice to see professors dress a certain type of way to create an inspiring image to their students that are trying to follow in the same path as them.” Not to say that his professors don’t dress professional, he finds that it’s usually, “the Math and English departments that dress down because they don’t really have an image to create to their students.”

There is absolutely no correlation with a professor’s attire and their experience in the field, explains Nesbitt. “I do think some academic departments have a culture that tends to dress more casually, while others dress more corporate, but again I think that’s more of a function of the discipline or professions connected to that department and the complex lives our faculty live on campus and outside of it.”

“Professors are well respected people in the John Jay community,” says peer ambassador Dev Sharma. Sharma sets his standards high because “when professors present themselves clean and sharp, you acknowledge that they took the time to dress their part.”

Professor Greg Donaldson, whose style varies depending on his mood in the morning, said, “You look good, you get treated well,” He prefers a contrast between outfits each day, having a decent amount of Gucci or Armani button down shirts and a blazer in his room still in their dry cleaner’s plastic hanging from behind his door.

Unlike forensic science lab professor, Professor A. Vrobeyev, who admitted one day during a ‘Hairs and Fibers’ lab that he prefers to wear a solid white cotton short-sleeved button-down each day, to remain neutral and unidentifiable.

According to Nesbitt, “there are certain college-wide and institutional events that come up fairly regularly where it makes sense-if even simply to fit in with colleagues- to have a certain affect based on attire, I imagine most faculty or staff keep a jacket and tie or a suit or dress or some accessories behind their door.”

Regarding the formally attired professors, Asif Sakoor, a senior at John Jay, said “it’s usually the older professors who dress professionally depending on their department,” that stand out from the others which make them easier to pin point around campus. “But vice-versa, you can also confuse students that are dressed professional as professors,” Sakoor said. “Just like casual dressed professors can easily get confused with students,” Sakoor’s friend Nadine Persaud, a John Jay junior, added.

Tiffany Roca, a John Jay freshman, said, “I respect a casual dressed professor.” Roca has a Math professor who often wears sneakers to class. Although she appreciates when a professor dresses professional too, “a well-dressed professor is just as effective and easier to approach, but if professors want to play the part as authority, they must dress the part first.”

Some students don’t care.  Mirah Carter, a junior, is one of those students.

“As long as I’m being educated and you teaching me something valuable, how you dress is all good,” said Carter.

Students like Kendra Hall, a junior, want their professors to look the part. “Dress decent and appropriate if your title is professor, especially those that want to be referred to as Dr. so and so and such,” said Hall. “Not like you just ran out of some hole in the wall.”

Whatever the status quo may be, one has to be careful not to stereotype people based on their clothing. An exceptionally well dressed law professor, Esquire Laura Gilbert, suggests, “Appearance is just one characteristic to go about judging someone. But the fact is image matters.”

For Professor Donaldson, it’s personality that overlooks fashion in the academic world, and at the end of the day, “It’s the quality of teaching that really matters.”

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