MANILA, Philippines?Freshmen at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) may think they have escaped from their high school prefects of discipline enforcing good grooming. But they better think twice, because UST?s grooming policy can be as stubborn as the floods that surround the campus during wet season.
The grooming policy includes regulation haircut. Although it?s left to each college to determine the haircut (UST has a decentralized set-up), the regulation could become restrictive for some.
As a result, one of the more talked-about reports last schoolyear in the Varsitarian, the 80-year-old official student publication of UST, was a grievance complaint filed by an AB-BSE student with the Faculty of Arts and Letters Student Council against a security guard posted at the Albertus Magnus Building, which houses the College of Education.
The student complained that the guard refused to allow him and his classmates to enter the building allegedly because of their hair. To get to their classes, they said they surrendered themselves to a haircut by the guard.
?The students would want the case to be noted and we would want the policy reviewed by your good office,? wrote then student council president John Christian Valeroso to the Education administration. (The AB-BSE program is under both Arts and Letters and Education.)
But the Education administration denied the incident took place. The guard said the students themselves cut their own hair to get in. The administration said guards were barred from cutting student?s hair.
But even if the guard did not snip the students? hair, student leaders questioned why students should be forced to cut their hair and be barred from joining their classes.
?Is it lawful for the school to bar students from entering buildings because of ?grooming? reasons when they have paid their tuition and matriculation and should have access to the school facilities they have paid for?? a student leader asked. ?Shouldn?t the policy be enforced by student welfare officers themselves who are paid to do just that in order to avoid student run-ins with security guards, who are paid to maintain security and check criminality, not enforce ?grooming? rules??
Because of the incident and several other complaints, the Arts and Letters administration has chosen to implement a ?liberal? haircut policy.
But most of UST colleges, like straitlaced Education, have stuck to a strict haircut policy.
Since the incident, many students have become more vocal against restrictive and what they call unrealistic haircut rules. The looser hairstyles are worn by students of Arts and Letters and the College of Fine Arts and Design.
Headbanger has actually been popular in the country since the F4 fever. The Taiwanese boy band once more made long hair the vogue. Mohawk, which harkens back to the days of American Indians roaming the open country, leaves one with a strip of long stiff hair running the middle area of the scalp. And Afro takes one back to the time of the Jackson Brothers via a ball of hair.
But these are just some of the hairstyles most colleges in UST do not allow their students to have.
In the UST Student Handbook, Thomasians are expected to respect and act in accordance with principles, traditions and ideals that are ?authentically Filipino and Catholic,? and that grooming policies have been formulated to build character, discipline and moral values.
But student leaders emphasize that the haircut policy contradicts freedom of self-expression, and that hairstyle has nothing to do with a student?s academic performance or intellectual competence.
The college administrators meanwhile said that while they understand the concerns of students, freedom of self-expression and discipline should go hand-in-hand.
The grooming policy should be taken in the context of UST?s uniform policy. Among the top universities, it?s only UST that requires students to wear their college regulation uniforms.
The uniform gives the student a virtual feeling of the profession s/he seeks to join. Thus, students of the College of Science and the Faculty of Pharmacy wear white uniforms that prefigure their later work in labs. Students of the Faculty of Civil Law wear smart attires fit for future lawyers. Especially for male students of these colleges, wearing the proper haircut prepares them for their future professions.
Another justification for uniforms is practicality and egalitarianism. Especially for private schools, a no-uniform policy may abet elitism and a race among students to wear expensive designer labels.
UST, whose tuition is relatively low compared with top universities, has always sought to cater to low- and middle-income students.
UST has also always upheld the 3 C?s, the so-called core Thomasian values of competence, compassion and commitment. The uniform and grooming policies should foster these.
But a loyal Thomasian who was once a campus activist said that restrictive grooming and haircut policies may get in the way of true Thomasian education. ?Discipine, scholarship, critical thinking, ethics, faith in God are the essentials,? he said. ?Grooming, especially haircut, is irrelevant. Even Christ had long hair.?