Mandatory Graduation Gown Purchase Draws Student Ire, Petition

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2016 graduate poses in graduation gown from Johns Hopkins former regalia supplier, Herff Jone (Photo Courtesy: Andrea Petrelli)

SAIS administration officials announced Tuesday afternoon that students graduating in May 2017 will be required to buy brand new graduation gowns, sparking a student-led petition opposing the compulsory purchase.


Second-year Latin American Studies concentrator Pui Shen Yoong drafted the petition Tuesday night and plans to gather electronic signatures Wednesday evening via email. The petition calls for the administration to either postpone the rollout of new gowns or to reimburse the students who have already purchased gowns on the secondhand market.

The petition has the full support of Student Government Association President Nathasa Soon, who is coordinating a meeting between SAIS’s administration and Yoong.

The administration’s mandate – requiring MA candidates to purchase $90 gowns, and PhD candidates to rent $120 gowns – came after Johns Hopkins changed regalia vendors over the summer. Yoong’s petition laments the lack of communication to second year students, many of whom have sunk costs in purchased gowns. The surprise decision comes on the heels of an unannounced tuition increase earlier this semester.

“I feel like a lot of decisions are taken without really consulting students here,” Yoong said. “My pet peeve here is … more the tone with which this decision is communicated, like, ‘oh by the way, we’ve changed our vendor, so all your old robes can no longer be used.’ … I found that very condescending because it assumes that it doesn’t matter what you spent on your old robe.”

SAIS’s smock verdict was communicated via email from SAIS Events Director Kelly Hunter mid-afternoon on Tuesday. However, the decision to change regalia vendors did not come from SAIS but from Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus.

Hopkins broke ties with past vendor Herff Jones after the company’s contract with the school expired over the summer. The university has since hired Oak Hall, citing gown quality, customer service and environmental friendliness.

Hopkins’ students will now don Oak Hall’s eco-friendly GreenWeaver gowns, which are constructed from up to 23 post-consumer plastic bottles instead of a traditional polyester blend.

(Photo Courtesy: Andrew Petrelli)

Ms. Hunter’s email states that SAIS aspires to “zero waste” events in the future, and that students can dispose of their newly-purchased gowns in Oak Hall-provided recycling bins after commencement. The recycled gowns would then be used in the production of new regalia.

Ms. Hunter could not immediately be reached for comment.

Geography and prestige were also factors in the switch. Hopkins’ gowns will now come from Oak Hall’s nearby Virginia-based factories, instead of Herff Jones’ production facility in Arcola, Illinois. And the new gowns will link SAIS graduates with the United States Supreme Court as Oak Hall provides robes to the court’s justices.  

Ire directed at costly barriers of entry to commencement isn’t new. In a 2014 letter to the editor in the SAIS Observer, SAIS student Katherine Marney bemoaned the mandatory purchase of $70 gowns after SAIS had paid for rentals in 2013.

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