Lets talk…Primary School.
In my day 1957-1963, primary school children did not wear uniform. Some kids were better dressed than others.
Nowadays primary school children wear uniform. Arguably a standardised uniform makes it more difficult to tell children from affluent and poor backgrounds apart. Arguably it is confidence building in children.
As I walk around the Shopping Centre/Mall I see those formal and informal uniforms, indicating that the 5 year old clutching Mammys hand is a pupil at one of the local Catholic schools. Or that the 10 year old breaking free from Mammys hand is a pupil at one of the local state schools.
A helpful guide for anthropologists is that the Catholic schools usually have the word “Saint” in the title and state schools usually have a place-name.
Lets talk …Secondary School.
In my day 1963-1970, secondary schools generally wore uniform. At my own catholic Grammar school, there was a short period of time, 1966-1968 when the rules were relaxed and everyone stopped wearing uniform and in 1968, when the school moved three miles to a new location, it was re-introduced.
Get on any bus or train after 3.30pm and see the loud teens and their uniforms. Of course post-primary teens,the uniform becomes a political or ethnic symbol as much as a school uniform.
School buses have been stoned.
The teens dont like the uniform.
Indeed school leavers traditional de-face their shorts with obscene autographs of their classmates on their last day. Neckties are burned.
Obviously no uniform.
Or maybe not.
As students all over the world pack their bags to go and study at University of London, Texas State University, University of St Andrews, Cambridge University or Queens University Belfast, they pack comfortable and “comfort” clothing.
Nothing introduces a person quicker than the Ireland Football Shirt, the Detroit Lions Shirt, the Ulster Rugby Shirt, the Manchester United Shirt or the Armagh Shirt.
Indeed on my first day at QUB in 2005, I sat beside a guy with a Darlington FC Shirt, Darlington being his home town in North East England.
As I recall, Monday was the big day for football tops.
If Manchester United had a good weekend, the shirts get worn.
Likewise, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Celtic, Rangers.
There is certainly an element of “in your face”.
Likewise the GAA shirts come out if the county had a good Sunday….Tyrone, Armagh, Down, Derry, Donegal.
GAA Shirts are arguably “different”.
The GAA is uniquely rooted in FAMILY, VILLAGE and COUNTY. And COUNTRY.
Thus up to fifty per cent of the county shirts to be seen in the Queens Cafeteria are worn by young women. Some village club shirts from deepest Fermanagh with a number like “7” or “11” indicate that the wearer is actually a PLAYER, who has actually earned the right to wear it.
And arguably GAA shirts are unique because they are collected as “holiday” souvenirs of visits to Wexford and Clare as much as fealty to the home county.
For example my 11 year old grandson has a closet full of GAA shirts.
But a Football (ie Soccer) fan is different. You just dont wear another shirt.
Of course at QUB (2005-2009) I rarely wore a football shirt. I certainly DID on the occasions when Manchester United won the League. But for a man in his mid-fifties, it is not age-appropriate. And I never would have felt totally comfortable wearing a GAA shirt on public transport.
In some of my classes…and the students were overwhelmingly nationalist, people occasionally wore football shirts, including GAA. There was one guy who ALWAYS wore a Rangers shirt. ALWAYS. Paradoxically he was advertising his unionism but I dont recall him ever actually speaking in a tutorial. He just sat there. His Rangers shirt was only statement for an entire semester. Which is pretty pathetic.
For a man of my age, for whom the Troubles was a recent memory, I DID worry about boys, the “culchies” (rednecks) as they would call themselves, who wore shirts a little too often and slightly off campus to be truly safe
And of course the student, about whom I worried most …was my son.
Thats how it goes.
Is it a “right” to wear sporting casual clothing to University?
Is it a “right” to wear political Tshirts to University?
Is it acceptable to wear a Seattle Seahawks Shirt in at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana?
Is it acceptable to wear a pro-Palestine Tshirt at Manhattan College in New York City?
Does Freedom of Expression trump the Academic Neutrality of a College Campus?
Are Sports Shirts …controversial?
Or is it a simple matter of an appropriate “Dress Code”?
Or is it the case that elite establishments like Oxford in England or Harvard in USA would frown on expressions of working class culture such as a shirt showing allegiance to a sports team?
But wasnt one of USAs top professional sports actually codified at an elite university?
And isnt “college sport” often the route to lucrative emplpyment in professional sport?
As always Norn Iron is different.
Catholics are more numerous at QUB.
But at the University of Ulster, a “university” spread over four sites, it is slightly different.
At Belfast and Jordanstown (about eight miles north of Belfast) catholics have a narrow majority.
At Derry (ninety miles from Belfast) Catholics are in a clear majority.
At Coleraine, there is a small Protestant majority?
But is the issue of GAA Shirts on a campus…an issue at all.
Or has it been made an issue by the sole TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) MLA, Jim Allister.
A party to the right of the DUP is of course antagonistic to the idea of visible expressions of Irishness.
Allister claims that the mere sight of GAA shirts at the University of Ulster is producing a “chill factor” for Protestant students.
Is it actually “intimidating” ?
I doubt it.
Allister has asked the Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party for a ruling.
Farry has referred it to the University itself.
They are involved in discussions with Students Union to talk about issues such as a “dress code” and general related issues.
Of course Id like to see the attitude of Jim Allister to (say) outright neutrality such as British war memorials on campus, or the wearing of poppies, or an Ulster Rugby shirt or Tshirts with “Help For Heroes” (the British Army charity) or the (British) Officer Training Corps.
This is NOT a genuine attempt to be neutral.
Rather it is an attack on Irish “culture”.
And lets be frank…any LetsGetAlongerist approach to resolving this petty and invented conflict …will be unduly accepting of Britishness as a default position.
There is a Facebook Page in support of those students who wish to wear GAA shirts.
I urge people to support them.
And I daresay that any Allister-inspired attempt by the University of Ulster to legislate will be resisted by the Students.