Conference drops 'unacceptable' dress code after profs complain

  • Organizers of an upcoming arts and humanities conference have capitulated to complaints from professors offended by the “unacceptable” dress code at a closing banquet.
  • Chris Bourg, director of libraries at MIT, sparked the controversy by complaining that “this dress code literally says that I cannot attend” because “I’m a woman who wears men’s clothes," even though she never planned to attend.

Organizers of an upcoming arts and humanities conference have capitulated to complaints from professors offended by the “unacceptable” dress code at a closing banquet.

The Digital Humanities 2017 conference, organized by the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organization (ADHO) in conjunction with McGill University and the Universite de Montreal, will take place from August 8-11, concluding with a banquet at the St. James Club in Montreal.

“This dress code literally says that I cannot attend. I’m a woman who wears men’s clothes.”   

[RELATED: Education scholar: ‘Middle class’ dress codes are white privilege]

A web page with information about the banquet originally specified that attendees would be required to adhere to a dress code in order to “preserve the ‘cachet de distinction’ of the Club,” stating that denim, shorts, and tennis shoes would be prohibited for all attendees, and asking that both men and women “dress in relaxed business attire.”

It went on to provide examples of acceptable attire, suggesting that women wear “dress pant, dark jeans, or skirt;” an “elegant top or blouse;” or a “short dress.” Men, meanwhile, were encouraged to wear “dress pant or dark jeans,” a “dress shirt,” and “sport jacket, no tie.”

Chris Bourg, Director of Libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), took offense at the dress code and complained in a series of tweets that attracted the attention of both colleagues and the event’s hosts.

“Gendered dress codes are unacceptable,” one tweet declared, urging conference organizers to “be better.”

“I dont give af [a fuck] abt [about] your ‘cultural issues’ #dh2017,” she sneered, saying, “this dress code literally says that I cannot attend” because “I’m a woman who wears men’s clothes.”

Despite the vehemence of her objections, though, Bourg told Campus Reform that she never had any intentions of attending the conference or the banquet, saying, “I don’t usually go to DH–not going this year isn’t anything special.”

Bourg, along with others who took part in the social media discussion, took particular issue with the term “short dress” under the women’s section of the code, but kept their ire focused on the very existence of a dress code.

“Yes short dress is a problem,” Bourg said in a tweet. “But bigger problem is separate code for men and women. Fuck that.”

“Not to mention perpetuation of the binary,” Boston University Digital Scholarship Librarian Vika Zafrin interjected in reply. “I considered going in menswear, but honestly, inclined to just no go.”

In response to the complaints, conference organizers issued a statement of apology describing the dress code’s language as an oversight, but noting that decorous attire is required by the venue.

“In the heat of conference preparations and with very limited options for venues in downtown Montreal able to accommodate 200+ guests for a delicious dinner, we let slip by some unfortunate assumptions and constraints,” the statement explains, conceding that “we could have done a much better job of anticipating and addressing in advance important issues raised by the language used by the dress code.”

[RELATED: UT removes ‘sexist’ dress code signs prohibiting ‘short skirts,’ ‘short shorts’]

The organizers assert that they “made urgent contact with the St. James Club” after receiving several complaints, reporting that they were able to extract a partial concession on the dress code.

“It’s worth noting that the St. James is a chic and private club that will remain open to its regular members during the banquet, and we generally wish to respect their house guidelines,” the statement notes. “They are much more accustomed to an affluent business clientele, but we’ve better explained to them our diverse international and academic demographic, and they’ve assured us that they will be more relaxed than usual.”

In place of the previous dress code, which has been removed from the website, the ADHO now says that guests will simply need to “dress up” for the banquet in “pants, blouse, dress shirt, dress, etc.,” although “not too formally.”

While the club continues to request that attendees “avoid light-coloured denim, t-shirts, shorts, sports shoes and flip-flops,” it will not require sport jackets, and has agreed to “recognize that business attire in an international context can include other things not mentioned here.”

Campus Reform did not receive a response from ADHO organizers, and Zafrin declined to comment.

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Neetu Chandak
Neetu Chandak | Fellow, The Daily Caller

Neetu is a Fellow at The Daily Caller. Prior to joining the Daily Caller team, Neetu was a New York Senior Campus Correspondent at Cornell University, and reported on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform.  

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