Purple pride

MVHS takes steps to get rid of gender binaries in graduation gowns and senior portraits

Alyssa Hui

For the past 50 years, the graduation ceremony held on the football field was characterized by alternating rows of purple and white gowns — purple generally for the males and white for the females. However, this year, all students, male or female, will be donning purple in order to eliminate the impacts of a gender binary at the ceremony.

Principal Ben Clausnitzer explains that this change has been a long time coming. The other four schools in the district have already made a change to a single color gown for graduation, and MVHS was the last.

“In the context of just trying to think about, ‘does gender need to be a decision when talking about graduation gowns?’” Clausnitzer said. “I think people went to a place of trying to say, ‘we are a class … let’s show unity and not have gender [be] a decision [in] what gown color I wear. Let’s all wear one color and have it be the primary color of the school.’”

Co-president of Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and junior Maya Tate recalls some of her friends’ struggles in picking out the appropriate color gown to match their gender identity. For one of her friends, they were non binary, but still had to choose one color.
“It caused a bit of internal strife with kids like that, so I’m really glad that we’re all wearing the same color,” Tate said. “I personally think that it looks better to have us all in purple because purple and gold is really nice.”

Junior Anushka Keskar feels the same, explaining that she doesn’t see the point of separating the gown color based on gender.

“It kinda seems silly to just distribute a color based on gender, so I think everybody wearing purple gowns is a good thing,” Keskar said. “It’s more uniform and also equal.”

Although he agrees that the change is a step in the right direction, junior Surya Ramesh feels that they should keep the purple and white gowns and just allow
students to choose what color they want to wear, which is the current system.

MVHS alumna Rupali Sujan, class of 2018, walked towards the upper field to take her seat in the sea of graduates, donning a white gown, during last year’s graduation. Photo by Scott DeRuiter

“I feel like the aesthetic of white and purple looks really cool,” Ramesh said. “I think it’s cool that when you look from above the stands, you see a sea of purple and white.”

However, Ramesh understands that it’s hard to change the stigma that girls wear white while boys wear purple.

Not only are changes being made to the graduation gowns, but GSA is also working with Clausnitzer and assistant principal Michael Martinez to change the senior portrait options. As of right now, there are two options when taking senior portraits: a tux, which is generally considered more masculine, and an off the shoulder drape, which is considered more feminine. These two options are very black and white, and many students don’t relate to either.

The two proposes are to either add more options to what they already offer or change the outfits completely to only caps and gowns for all seniors in an effort to get rid of gender binaries.

According to Tate, there are many students who are transgender, queer or nonconforming who end up wearing clothes that don’t reflect their identities. She also explains that a single option might make it safer for students who aren’t out yet, as they won’t have to conform to a specific gender or be exposed.

“It’s safer and it’s easier and it’s frankly more convenient to have everyone wearing the same thing, still a really nice looking garment, but it frees people from the fear of having to choose or the discomfort of having to look at a picture of themselves in an outfit they don’t feel comfortable in,” Tate said.

Tate explains that Clausnitzer is reaching out to other schools while Martinez is in contact with the photography o r g a n i z a t i o n , Prestige Portraits, to see if anybody has done anything like this and get a sense of the options. She is also trying to get a feel for what people think through surveying students and come up with ideas for what to wear.

“I hope it’ll set a precedent for casual gender neutrality because it’ll be pretty big the first year we implement it, but after that, to every new class of freshmen, it’ll seem really low key, it’ll just be normal,” Tate said. “That sort of sense of normalcy around neutrality is something that we really want to encourage, not just in this school but in the other schools in the district because none of them have done anything like this and then schools across the state.”

Although she thinks there may be some pushback with those who want to keep the traditional way of doing things, Tate hopes that if they make the new options formal enough, and they fight and push for the change, they can make it happen.

Keskar also thinks that these changes will allow for more freedom of expression instead of restricting students.

“For MVHS, I don’t think it would make a difference because I feel like this campus is really accepting of how people choose to express themselves,” Keskar said. “Obviously it will have a positive impact for people who weren’t allowed to express themselves through their fashion choices before, but I don’t think it will make that much of a difference in the school community.”

GSA is also working on implementing more gender neutral restrooms throughout the school and possibly even a gender neutral locker room. However, Tate explains that it’s a much larger process.

Clausnitzer hopes that the community will react positively to these changes in including all students. He also thinks that these changes will help make the school more inclusive overall.

“There’s those types of conversations, which certainly include this concept of inclusivity, not specific to just gender, but this idea that all students are feeling safe, they’re feeling valued, they’re feeling a sense of belonging, on this campus,” Clausnitzer said. “Hopefully, over some amount of time, I would hope more and more students feel that way.”