Inclusivity should be uniform

Paige Sheppard

This year, the Augustana choral department has decided to ditch the old concert uniforms and opt for something more gender-neutral. Just like most vocal ensembles around the United States, Augustana has been wearing dresses and tuxedos for decades. This heavily gendered option can leave non-cisgendered students feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome in a space meant to foster passion and self-expression.
While interviewing Jon Hurty, the director of choral activities, I asked what prompted him to decide a uniform change was necessary. “Things are changing in our culture,” Hurty shared, “We decided if we were going to be totally inclusive in our area, then we should also find a way to be inclusive regarding performance outfits.”
As a choir member myself, it’s reassuring to know that our professors are thinking about the environment they create for us and are always considering creative ways to improve our sense of belonging.
While the choral department still has not reached a definite conclusion on what the new uniforms will look like, they are considering black pants for all students with the choice of a black button-up or a black blouse.
Hurty admits, “We have really struggled finding something that works. We have spent hours working on trying to get the right thing.”
Before committing to a new uniform, the department wants to choose an option that is not only inclusive of all gender identities, but also comfortable for all body types.
The department will be conducting a fitting before deciding which uniform to commit to. I think ensuring that all body types feel comfortable in their choral outfit is just as important as including all gender identities.
Another challenge that faces the department is limited catalog options. In order to ensure uniformity for years at a time, they must choose outfits from catalogs that offer the same styles annually, rather than ones that change every season.
“The performance catalog businesses have not started offering non-gendered options,” Hurty points out. Even though the performance catalogs still separate fashion by “Men’s” and “Women’s,” Augustana is keeping up with the changing pace of the world by trying to find some middle ground between the two hard drawn lines.
In addition to the uniform change creating a more inclusive environment, the switch will most likely save students a considerable amount of money. All three choirs currently have different uniforms that students are responsible for buying. While tenors and basses all wear the same tuxedo all four years, sopranos and altos all wear different dresses depending on the choir they sing for.
Students are currently paying around $100 for their concert attire, but Hurty hopes this change will lower the price.
This change will lessen the burden of a mandatory purchase on our crying college student bank accounts and will be much more affordable for all members of any choir.
Although we are still not entirely sure what the new choral uniforms will look like, I believe this change will promote acceptance on campus and remind all students that choir is a safe space.
Hopefully this alteration will inspire the rest of our school’s organizations to consider how we can all adapt to a changing atmosphere of inclusivity, and make concrete changes where necessary. This would help ensure all students feel seen, heard and welcome at Augustana.