SIT Commencement 2014
The origins of academic dress date back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when universities were forming. Long gowns were worn and may have been necessary for warmth in unheated buildings.
A statute at the University of Coimbra in 1321 required that all "Doctors, Licentiates, and Bachelors" wear gowns. In England in the second half of the fourteenth century the statutes of certain colleges forbade "excess in apparel" and prescribed wearing a long gown. In the days of Henry VIII of England, Oxford and Cambridge first began prescribing a definite academic dress and made it a matter of university control even to the extent of its minor details.
The doctoral robe is differentiated from the master's robe by the velvet panels and sleeve bars which may be the color distinctive to the disciplines to which the degree pertains. Hood dimensions are determined by the degree level. Satin linings indicate the institution that awarded the degree. The velvet band color signifies the field of study of the degree. The assignment of colors to signify certain faculties was standardized in the USA in the late nineteenth century.
Recognizing twenty-first centruy needs and concerns, SIT offers its graduates the option to purchase a traditional black gown that is environmentally friendly. It looks good; it feels good; the price is right, and it's recyclable (amazingly, the gowns are made out of recycled plastic milk cartons).
Alternatively, SIT Graduate Institute has created its own tradition and a visual image to represent the school and intercultural aspects of the institution's participants and work. Graduates can choose to rent one of 120 robes specially crafted in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Thirty of the robes were stitched by hand by Lahu Hill tribe women as part of a project coordinated by WEAVE (Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment), a non-governmental organization working in Thailand with Hill Tribe communities and refugees from Burma. Those involved with these extraordinary efforts include Ampown, the 16-year-old leader of the women's handicraft group, and SIT student Veronica Martin (PIM 53).
The Ecumenical Women's Centre in Cape Coast, Ghana, produced thirty robes which display the adinkra designs symbolizing humility, strength, wisdom, learning, excellence, bravery, fearlessness, democracy and unity in diversity. The Centre had its beginnings as a meeting place for elderly women of the community and now operates the Rising Sun Batik Vocational School, a lending library and full-service restaurant. Julialynne Walker, academic director for SIT's College Semester Abroad (now SIT Study Abroad) program, was instrumental in obtaining these robes.
The remaining sixty robes were crafted by Nuhuit, a women's cooperative in El Salvador that purchased the materials from a weaving cooperative in Guatamala. The fourteen members of the sewing and embroidery cooperative produce hand-crafted clothing and household items, representing both Guatemalan and Salvadoran cultures for local and international customers. The purchase of these robes was facilitated by SIT student Cathie Chilson (PIM 48), based at Pueblo to People, a Houston-based alternative trade organization.
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