Oxford faces call to ban scholars’ gowns
OXFORD students have voted to ban gowns that mark out the cleverest among them from “commoners” at law debates because they create “unconscious bias” among examiners.
The student union voted to lobby the university to bar the highest-achieving law students from wearing “scholars’ gowns” because they cause unfairness at moot debates, simulated court hearings at which students practise their legal arguments in front of judges.
The gowns, which are longer and have open sleeves, are reserved for scholarship students or those who have done particularly well in their exams.
They are also worn for formal exams, but supporters of the change argued that this did not cause the same problem, as markers could not see what the student had been wearing when judging their work.
According to the student newspaper Cherwell, the motion proposed by Thomas Howard, a second-year law student at Magdalen College, said that “judges, sometimes from leading law firms and chambers, may have unconscious bias based on the gowns worn.”
Mr Howard told a students’ union meeting that judges’ preconceptions could be “damaging for those in a commoners’ – and can be for the scholars too, since the judge may expect more of them”.
Not all students supported the vote. One commented that it was “silly”.