Arundel adopts new single-color graduation gown policy, faces controversy

By Rachel Heller and Maddie McLean

On December 1st, Arundel High School announced their school-based decision mandating seniors of 2018 and future years to wear single-color green gowns for graduation. Arundel’s policy has been put in motion by Principal Gina Davenport to emphasize school-wide unification.

The decision was first made known to the public via a tweet by the official Twitter account for the Class of 2018, run by the Senior Class officers. The tweet identified the new gowns as green with a white stripe on the sleeves, and labeled the policy as a decision made by the Board of Education. The account later made a follow-up tweet, reporting the misinterpretation behind who mandated the policy and correcting it as a school-based decision.

Following mixed feedback from Arundel students and parents, Davenport later released a letter to parents and guardians of graduating seniors, clarifying misinformation and explaining the policy.

In the letter, Davenport further dissolved misinterpretations behind the decision’s origins and defined it as a school-based decision. She explained the reason for the new policy as “a further step to emphasize the need for unity, particularly in what is often a very divisive society.”

Regarding senior photos that some students had taken in white gowns prior to the decision, Davenport said that she’s contacted the photography company Lifetouch to make accommodations. Students who desire photo retakes will be offered a free sitting fee with Lifetouch and a 20% discount for new pictures.

In closing, Davenport informed parents of a meeting that she called with the Senior Class officers, following the feedback she had received. They discussed possibly postponing the enactment of the decision, and the officers agreed that the class of 2018 should be the first class to adopt the policy.

In an interview with The Pulse, Davenport discussed how the policy originated. “I was listening to the radio, and I was hearing another story about someone else who was fired from their job for misconduct, being inappropriate, and I was thinking about all of the different social structures we have in place that really keep people separated. . . . Caps and gowns are one of those things that we do here at Arundel that still divide us by gender,” she said.

Davenport went on to explain that many of Arundel’s traditions are old and come from “a time when [the] country was very different.”

The decision has been met with both criticism and approval from students and parents, on and off social media.

Hear the perspectives of a few Arundel students regarding the new gown policy:

Arundel senior Kyler Hewitt is of the group that supports the new policy, citing the change as beneficial for trans students like himself. “It is more equal and safer for trans and non-binary students,” he said. “I’ve been fighting for gender-neutral gowns since freshman year, and we finally have them!”

For those in opposition, the majority of the disapproval has been due to a reluctance to break tradition, a distaste for the color, or the fact that students have already taken their senior photos in the previous white gowns.

“I was cool with the unification, but I just didn’t like the kelly green,” said Elina Baltins, an Arundel senior. While she supports the message that the change intends to evoke, she feels that the chosen gowns are not “the most aesthetic choice.”

Many have chosen to express their objections through social media outlets. Following the decision, an anonymous user created an online petition, titled “Change cap and gown colors,” on “Society changes but traditions shouldn’t have to change with it,” they said. The petition has currently garnered 151 signatures.

The bulk of complaints on social media have been directed to Senior Class officers Esra Mahgoub and Savannah DeLullo, who both run the Class of 2018 Twitter account. The officers were the ones who first announced the decision to the Arundel community.

“We knew we would receive backlash,” said DeLullo. She noted that while most students began to accept the decision within a few days, the parents have been the main source of complaints, especially in the private Facebook group for the Class of 2018. “While there is just a small percentage of parents who continue to be upset, they are strongly voicing their opinions.”

For most parents who have disapproved of the change, their objections have revolved around having already paid for photos of their child in a white gown. “We were given no forewarning and some of us paid a lot for the pictures and would like to have them match,” expressed one parent in the Facebook group.

Still, some parents communicated acceptance of the new policy. “Where my child will attend college and how to pay for it are far more worrisome,” said another parent on Facebook.

 “The change was definitely coming one way or another,” said Mahgoub. “Most of the schools in [Anne Arundel County] are slowly transitioning to one color gowns.” In 2016, Howard County implemented a policy requiring all schools within the county to have gender-neutral graduation gowns. Also in 2016, South River High School in Anne Arundel County transitioned to single-color blue gowns.

For now, the decision will be enacted for 2018’s upcoming graduation and future graduations, as the Arundel administration has no plans of repealing the new policy.