The University of Lagos has introduced a controversial new dress code for its students, banning dresses which are either too tight, too short, or expose sensitive parts of the body. Students have condemned the ban, and the new dress code has also caused an outrage on social media.

The University released a circular early this week, which details the new rules. The preamble of the circular reads, “It has been observed by some male and female students of the University of Lagos dress indecently on campus, even to lectures”.

The University management describe what is considered as indecent dressing under the new dress code:

Indecent dresses are either too tight, too short, or expose sensitive parts of the body. Indecent modes of dressing do not reflect the seriousness, dignity and character-moulding nature of the academic enterprise. Moreover, they can result in the general lowering of moral and academic standards of the university.

While some people welcome this development, some are aghast as to why the university should concern itself with the dress code of adults who have a choice to determine what and what not to wear. Institutions of higher learning are considered a place of growth and self-expression. Policing what students should and should not wear seems to cross the thin line between free expression, and public offense.

The circular makes specific reference to the types of clothes prohibited for men and men.

After a Kenyan woman was stripped and beaten by dozens of men at a Nairobi bus station — her only crime: wearing a miniskirt — hundreds of people met in peaceful protest to stand up for their rights. Photo: AP

The ban has divided opinion over what constitutes appropriate dressing, and several questions have been raised on social media. Questions such as, how should a “proper” dress code be defined and measured, Who (should) define the decency and appropriateness of how women dress (formally and informally)? What informs institutional rules of professional attire?

Read: Policing how women dress, what defines appropriate or decent dress code?

Last year, a Ugandan student, Joaninne Nanyange, revealed on Facebook how she was stopped from entering the Law Development Centre by two women because she was inappropriately dressed [knee length skirt]. The incident caused a heated debate online.

Women in Kenya recently protested in the capital over a case of a woman who was beaten by men for indecent dressing. The hashtag MyDressMyChoice, gained popularity through these protests. In another incident in South Africa at the University of Zululand, a female student was harassed and publicly humiliated for wearing shorts. Women across Africa have been fighting against practices, which violate their rights and freedom of choice.

The notice on what constitutes indecent dressing by the University of Lagos is likely to bring on an increase in harassment. Many Nigerian universities and educational institutions force their students to adhere to specific dress codes in the name of respecting moral standards.