As graduation draws nigh, the class of 2019 has been ordering caps and gowns for their graduation ceremony. For over 10 years, male students have worn red caps and gowns at graduation and female students have worn gold. However, the Berkeley High School (BHS) administration, as well as Berkeley School Board Director Judy Appel have proposed two possible changes to the system to make it more inclusive: either each student chooses whether their gown is gold or red, or all gowns are one color. While the changes will not be in place for this year’s graduation class, they will almost certainly be in place for the class of 2020.
Currently, students can change their color by contacting Achievers Inc., the company which handles gown orders, through email or phone. Students who do not contact Achievers are defaulted to red or gold based on their gender.
Two separate plans have been proposed by the administration. The first, which is likely to take effect for the class of 2020, is to “not have it tied to gender at all,” according to Principal Erin Schweng. Students would choose a gown color as part of the ordering process, instead of having their gown color default to red or gold based on their gender.
Schweng also said that she would be open to making all graduation gowns the same color, but stating that she wanted to hear from students about it. If implemented, she said she would prefer all students wear red. “More people tend to feel like they look good in red,” she said. Director of Student Activities, John Villavicencio was more enthusiastic about the single-color plan, saying it’s something he’d “like to do.” He also expects it would be easier for Achievers to process orders under a single-color method.
These proposals are not limited to the BHS administration. Appel said at a November 14 school board meeting that gown colors should no longer be gendered because doing so “implies that boys and girls are fundamentally different,” and formally requested that the Berkeley School Board Policy Subcommittee make this change.
According to Villavicencio, it is often “cumbersome” for students to manually choose their gown color by contacting Achievers. He cited the example of a trans or non-binary student feeling uncomfortable choosing a color based on their gender to explain further.
Students seem to broadly support the first plan. Maxime Hendrikse Liu, a BHS senior and president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, said an end to the gender-gown color link would be “the ideal setup.” BHS senior Lydia Macy also said these change would be “a small but impactful way to expand gender inclusivity.” She also said that students should be free to easily choose the color they prefer. “A lot of my female friends just really want to get red gowns, because they like that color better,” Macy said.
As for the single color plan, Macy said she “would be fine with it,” but added it would make graduation less spirited. Hendrikse Liu had similar concerns. “The school colors are red and gold, so we should have red and gold,” she said. However, both students felt a one-color graduation would be preferable to the current system.