By Eric Owens
An American graduate student has caused one of the University of Cambridge’s colleges to eradicate a rule which, for centuries, has required women to wear skirts and men to wear a jacket, a tie and decent pair of pants if they wish to present themselves in the dining hall.
The rules governing dining hall garb at the venerable school, St. Catherine’s College, have been in place for 650 years, according to Reuters. (St. Catherine’s College was founded in 1473, which is only 542 years ago. In any case, the rule has existed for a long time.)
The St. Catherine’s student who successfully lobbied for the rule change is Charlie Northrop, a 25-year-old Ph.D. candidate in the classics who is currently undergoing a sex change process.
Northrop, 25, is a native of Richmond, Ind., a town of about 37,000 people that is most famous as the boyhood home of Jim Jones, the cult leader and community organizer who organized the murder of over 900 people on a compound in Jonestown, Guyana.
Northrop has persuaded school officials that men should now be allowed to wear skirts and women should be allowed to wear pants in the dining hall.
“It wasn’t that there was much resistance,” he added. “It’s just the new wording had to be sound and there was a lot of conversations between the college and the committee.”
Northrop said he wanted wording which “would omit gender specification but would still keep formality.”
“For instance the college wanted to ensure those wearing suits would still wear ties but female suits don’t have ties so we’ve worded it so that if you have buttons down the left side you don’t have to wear a tie but down the right side you do,” he told the London newspaper.
A dean’s notice on the St. Catherine’s College website concerning “smart dress” explains the new policy. “‘Smart dress’ is defined without reference to considerations of gender identity or expression,” it says. “This means a suit (or trousers and jacket), a shirt with a collar, a tie, and shoes (not trainers or sandals), or equivalently formal dress. The staff are instructed to refuse admission to anyone coming to Formal Hall improperly dressed.”
Some old rules still remain. For example: “No one may leave his or her seat before grace without permission, except in case of medical emergency or when evacuation of Hall is necessary.”
Northrop previously spent five years earning a degree at John Cabot University, an obscure American liberal arts college in Rome founded in 1972.
“My friends and family have been so supportive throughout it all,” Northrop said of his push of the dress code change at St. Catherine’s.
“I always felt wrong with the sex I was but it’s hard to explain in words,” he also told The Telegraph. “It was when I was 18 that I began the real process of realizing I wanted to transition.”
St Catherine’s College is one of the 31 constituent colleges under the University of Cambridge umbrella.
The University of Cambridge was established in 1209. It is the world’s fourth-oldest university in continuous existence and the second-oldest in the English-speaking world.