UPV admin, students quibble over graduation dress code

Workers prepare the Oblation Avenue at UP-Visayas’ Iloilo City campus for its first face-to-face Commencement Exercises since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted more than two years ago. (Photo from UPV Facebook account)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan and Marjune N. Muzones

What’s in a dress code, particularly for graduation rites?

There is much to it, if some students at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) are to be asked.

Controversy attended the upcoming graduation ceremonies of UPV on July 21, 2022 after some students criticized the campus administration’s rule regulating the wearing of gender-affirming attire.

UP Lipad, UPV’s organization for gender advocates, called on the UPV administration on Sunday to affirm the lived identities of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) graduating students.

They also called for allowing students to be called by their lived names during the ceremonies.

“We stand by our students’ rights to live their identities freely without question. Expressing one’s gender through graduation attire that still adheres to a formal dress code does not disrupt the graduation ceremony in any form at all. Acknowledging the ‘lived’ identities of our students should not be up for debate,” UP Lipad said in a statement.

The All UP Academic Employees Union Iloilo Chapter, the university’s faculty union, on Tuesday also issued a statement of support for the concerned students.

“People assigned male, female, or intersex at birth can validly identify as any gender later in life. As an academic institution, the University of the Philippines’ policies must be timely and evidence-based. To require students to declare their choice in academic attire prior to graduation is preposterous, transphobic, and contrary to modern conventions on SOGIESC,” the union said in its statement on Facebook.

“Being expected by other institutions to stand at the forefront where progressive policies are concerned, the University of the Philippines should stop perpetuating transphobia and cis-genderism under the guise of protecting the solemnity and formality of the rites,” they added.

Daily Guardian also spoke to two non-binary graduating UPV students who were directly affected by the rule.

Non-binary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity are not confined to man or woman (male or female).

Joum Malonosan had already said his piece through his Facebook and Twitter accounts, which earned nods of agreement from students and faculty alike.

They expressed immense disappointment and frustration on the graduation dress code as a non-binary student.

“As a student who identifies as a nonbinary, I find the policy to be blatantly discriminatory. Trans and gender non-conforming students are specifically targeted for circumventing traditional masculinity and femininity in terms of clothing. Personally, this reminds me that no matter how progressive the university claims to be, LGBT rights still have a long way to go,” Malonosan said.

They added that the university’s requirement of a letter to UPV Chancellor Clement Camposano for them to be allowed to wear was likewise discriminatory.

“Why are they only requiring gender non-conforming students to send a letter? If they are concerned with decorum, they should require all students, regardless of gender, to file a request,” they added.

Karl Abismo, another non-binary graduating student, said that they were in “complete frustration and agitation” over the “discriminatory” rule.

“If trans, non-binary, and the like are required to write a letter to confirm the attire they have to wear is aligned with their identity and expression, why is the rest of the student body not allowed to do the same thing? It’s 2022 and it’s time to dismantle medieval thinking!” they stated.

“The way students express themselves shouldn’t even be a question as long as respect is retained. The issue we have at hand is a question of policy. The same issue is pervasive for many years already, with the amount of stigma and pressure we have to face by “managing” our identities in social settings to meet what is expected of us by many,” they added.

Andy Genciana, a graduating BS in Fisheries student also expressed some reservations to the policy, saying that it needs further clarification while also commending efforts to promote inclusivity.

“The letter required by the administration remains questionable in my opinion, since it appears to demand students to justify their gender expression in order to be recognized. Perhaps the administration should define what should be included in the letter further. However, I still commend UPV administration’s decision to allow students to dress according to their gender expression. This is indeed a major leap towards gender inclusivity and student diversity understanding that I believe other institutions should emulate,” he said.

In a letter sent to the UPV Admin last June 30, 2022, the UP Visayas-University Student Council (UPV-USC) requested for a more lenient dress code for the graduation rites, emphasizing the call for freedom of expression based on gender identity.

A Notice of Action containing approval and recommendations to the request has since been released but the USC pointed out that during the graduation orientation, the administration required students to individually send letters for them to dress according to their Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE).

This was denounced by the Student Council, calling for the university to retract that decision and called for respect to the gender identity and expression of graduating students.

“We call on the UP System to review and change the outdated dress code. We stand firm that gender expression is the right of the students. It is not something that needs to be appealed to be “allowed” in the first place. Furthermore, transgender, and non-gender conforming students should be allowed to be called by their lived names during the ceremony. It is who they are and contains their history of struggles and victories,” UPV-USC said in a statement.


Dr. Camposano clarified with Daily Guardian that the university administration had already agreed to allow students to wear gender-affirming attire as long as they conform to the system-wide guidelines.

He elaborated that the policy of requiring students to wear “male” and “female” attire was based on existing pre-approved guidelines that are used across the UP System.

“Our policy, in fact, because by our understanding, the guidelines are flexible enough, we have decided to allow transgender and non-conforming students to dress according to their gender expression, as long as they are consistent with the guidelines. For example, if you’re male and your gender expression is female, then you can dress as a female as long as you dress according [to] how females are supposed to dress in the guidelines,” Camposano said.

The chancellor likewise clarified that the letter to be sent by students to his office was a mere request for formal notification for the University Registrar’s documentation.

“I think that was misunderstood because what the Registrar has appealed to do is [for students] to formally notify us, that they prefer to dress differently. The reason why we have to do that is because we’re deviating from established practice, and for purposes of documentation, then there must be that kind of request. It’s not even a request, it’s just even a notification,” he said.

As to allowing the use of TGNC students’ lived names, he said that he would be pushing this with the graduation committee, to mention after their legal names.

He emphasized that since the graduation ceremonies are formal ceremonies, the use of lived names instead of legal names may have legal complications if used alone.

“If your name is John but you want to be called Joanna, but the person that enrolled in the university is John, then only the one called John would graduate. You might create problem there if you use another name. If we change their names, how do we reflect that in the transcript of records, or how will that impact on the validity of their graduation because another name was called out?” he expressed.

On other issues such as the computation of students’ grades, he said that this would be under the power of the University Council, the highest academic policy-making body of the university.