Aren’t We All Maroons?

Mason Hagarty, Editorial Editor

Abby Blakey

For years now, Belleville Township High School West has celebrated the ceremony of commencement with male students wearing maroon caps and gowns while the girls traditionally wear white regalia. Unlike our sister school East, whose graduates all wear a single blue color cap and gown regardless of gender, West continues to distinguish the differences without explanation or consideration for several factors. Which begs the question: Aren’t we all Maroons?

The first reason to drop this tired tradition is that gender identity is no longer a binary matter. Belleville West is made up of a diverse student body and includes transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and gender fluid students. Forcing these students to wear a color graduation gown that either may publicly “out” their identity before they are prepared to disclose this information, or that does not align with who they believe at their core to be, can be difficult for students. 

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Elizabeth J. Meyer Ph.D. writes, “During key rituals and turning points in the school year (prom, homecoming, graduation), many transgender and gender nonconforming youth are put in impossible situations where they must display their gender in ways defined by their school, but don’t always reflect their identities.”

She continues “Some may opt not to participate at all since the choice between celebrating their accomplishments with their peers or having their identities fully expressed and affirmed is a difficult one — one we shouldn’t be forcing students to make.”

In February of 2021, Palm Beach County Florida schools banned the practice of two color commencement caps and gowns because they found the practice to be in direct conflict with their own policies. They also discovered that the policy violated state and federal law.

“The way we were currently functioning was a violation of some of the board’s policies,” Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said at the school board meeting.

“In addition, it violates state and federal law,” he added.

While Florida state laws do not apply to schools in Illinois, federal law, specifically Title IX does apply. 

In a 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter, the United States Department of Education explicitly stated that “As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX or its implementing regulations.”

Forcing students to choose a maroon or white gown stands in direct contradiction to this instruction by distinguishing those students identifying as male in one color robes and female identifying students in white gowns.

Furthermore, as if following federal recommendations or protecting the mental well-being of our classmates isn’t reason enough to change the tradition, there is the message the two-color party of pupils sends. It’s not a unifying message for a public school where we’re all expected to follow the “Maroon Way.” We don’t go to sports events and cheer for teams based on gender. We go to cheer on the Maroons. We don’t have different curriculum or graduation requirements based on gender. We don’t have classrooms assigned by gender. So why shouldn’t we as Maroons all graduate as one, looking like one, and standing together in our celebration as one class?

Many of us read Dr. Seuss back in grade school, and the topic of different color gowns is reminiscent of one of his popular books “The Sneetches.” It was about Sneetches who had stars on their bellies and Sneetches who had no stars on their bellies. In the end, it was decided that neither was better because they were all Sneetches.

“The day they decided that Sneetches were Sneetches. And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.” 

Today we should decide that Maroons are Maroons, no matter our identity. And the best kind of Maroon is a Maroon who is free to be.