Questioned posed to Dr. Simon Rhodes, Provost and VP of Academic Affairs
Dr. Rhodes, Provost
Does UNF have a policy on students wearing offensive clothing? Now before you freak out about the freedom of expression, remember that students have a right to express themselves if they don’t disrupt classes. I have had students wear clothing that causes disruptions – such as a shirt depicting a violent act and a shirt with the F-word boldly proclaimed. Do I, as a faculty member, have any right in keeping disruptive clothing out of my classroom? If I have a statement about it in the syllabus, does that help my case?
Answer from the floor by Dr. Rhodes, Provost and VP of Academic Affairs
So I thank Dr. Anonymous for this question. I think this actually is a good topic. As you might guess, I’m only barely qualified to answer this, so I did talk to legal and their advice as always is to tread carefully. The key phrase they say in the legal world is actually substantial disruption. In other words, substantial disruption to the learning environment. Some even interpret that as substantial means repeated, so persistent and so on. The advice also is that it’s probably best not to put things into the syllabus because those things can eventually come back and work against us. Sometimes people see those things and decide to test the limits. However, please note, you can put things in your syllabus that are directly relevant to the content. If you’re teaching your chemistry lab and students have to wear clothes and shoes for safety reasons, or it’s a business course and there’s a, you know, they’re out in the community and we want them to well represent the college and business and learn how to operate in that world or wearing correct attire in the nursing internship—I think all those things are appropriate.
So the advice is probably best not to put it into your syllabus. We’re a place of learning; we’re a place of flexibility and discussions. So help that those things can often come into play. If you think a situation is dangerous, just call the police. I think the most important thing I want to say is that our office is here to help you. So often as a faculty member, you’re not sure how to deal with a situation call us up, let us help, let it become our responsibility to support and help you. If there’s a student in your class that feels substantially disrupted or challenged by that situation, you can also refer that student to us, or that student can go to the Dean of Students or that student can go, you know, in a good way to for student ombuds and they will connect them to resources too. I hope that helps. I am grateful for the question. I think it’s a good, it’s a good question.