Letter to the Editors: Caps and Gowns Cost

Katherine Marney wrote a letter expressing her concerns that second-year students at SAIS Washington were not consulted on the cost distribution of our gown and were obliged to pay $70 to be able to walk in their graduation.

Dear Editors,

I remain concerned that we were not consulted on the cost distribution of our gown for our graduation ceremony. It seems common practice for our SGA and the administration to consult students on important issues that will affect our student life, education or sometimes the use of our tuition. I recall the cafe survey, the student satisfaction survey and most recently, the core exam survey sent by SGA and the school that sought to gauge student sentiments about possible changes at SAIS.

Indeed, one would hope that on an issue such as our graduation, the SAIS administration and our elected representatives in SGA would have been interested to understand students’ opinions about how we would like to celebrate such an important day (other than who the speaker might be). Following a survey or other direct forms of participation, the result may have been the same. However, the absence of communication, consultation and transparency around the planning process for our graduation and the use of our tuition to pay for this ceremony is troubling.

We were told the decision was made based on the experience last year, when the school paid for rented gowns, [for which] I guess the trade-off was a simpler reception. While I respect the decision, the student reaction to the news that we would be obliged to pay $70 to be able to walk in our graduation may have been more muted if we had been consulted before the decision was made.

Moreover, a second argument made was that last year might have been an exception to the rule. Yet, graduating second-year students only have last year’s experience on which to draw. The decision to depart from last year’s practice was poorly communicated to students who were only made aware of the gown costs (and therefore, the change from last year) after they had applied for graduation, ordered tickets and began to plan with family. A survey, or at a minimum better communication, would have allowed students to make an informed decision about graduation and to better plan for the costs.

Finally, on a related note, one line of reasoning from the SGA and members of the administration is that this is common practice throughout the United States for graduation ceremonies, and that comparatively, the cost of our gown is less than at other schools. I appreciate that this is common in this country – yet, for portions of this school’s very international student body that did not grow up or were not educated (until now) in the United States, this may not be common practice for us. For example, where I graduated from college, we were able to rent the gown at a subsidized price from the school. In other locations, gowns can be provided for free by the university. I would ask that we try to be more understanding of the diverse backgrounds of SAIS students in responding to student concerns on this topic, especially since we saw that an alternative was possible last year.

While there have been and will be many important discussions about this issue moving forward, student consultation in any future changes is crucial to maintain a culture of transparency and open lines of communication between the SAIS administration, SGA and the student body.

Katherine Marney

Second-year MA Candidate at SAIS Washington