At Kemu, education fit for the body also takes care of mind

The Main entrance to the Kenya Methodist University main campus in Meru. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Schools reopened this week countrywide — after nearly two months of recess— ready to deal with a host of challenges, as junior high school was inaugurated under the new Competency-Based-Curriculum.

Since we collectively operate under crisis mode, some schools had no idea where the new classes and labs would be domiciled, even after six years of planning.

It’s not just high schools that have urgent matters to dispense with: The Kenya Methodist University (Kemu) has a unique challenge that nearly paralysed learning this week: students were sent away for not adopting appropriate grooming, as stipulated in a recent circular by the institution.

Male students were prohibited from spotting dreadlocks, earrings, saggy pants or vests that display their chests, while female students were warned against donning tank tops, commonly known as tumbo cuts, because they reveal their bellies and navels, mini-skirts and dresses and skirts with slits.

Neither should they wear lowcut shirts—the precise detail is they should be below four inches— although we don’t know who did the measuring to determine that length as an appropriate threshold.

Further, female students should not wear see-through clothes and tights, while males shouldn’t wear untucked shirts and hats.

It’s not clear what has prompted the new directives, but the university restates its Christian foundations and grooming is part of the holistic moulding of the students. Moreover, we don’t know if the faculty are to abide by the same standards and if that impedes their academic freedom.

This move is timely and should be applauded. First off, it avails a legitimate ground for others to focus on student bodies—something that’s ordinarily neglected in the pursuit of knowledge. It’s virtuous to pay attention, even under the pretence of sartorial surveillance, as students’ poor grooming is generally a cry for attention.

And in these hard times, one assumes the extra task of having fashion policemen and women on campus would create a job or two. After all, the only to get us out of economic doldrums is by creating employment.

I’d assume specialisation will come soon, so that some folks will be detailed to measure the slits on the skirts or plunging necklines. And with a tape in hand, the other on the collar, student’s shirt dimensions would be taken to affirm if a cut is beyond four inches, while peeping to check if the cleavage is visible. Goodness gracious me, some jobs are real fun!

I’m still figuring what anyone would have against dreadlocks, after all, the idiom, akili ni nywele should prompt many more to keep their hair. As for the earrings adorned by male students, those well learned will know old men used to wear them to distinguish age-set and social rank.

But the real benefit of this sartorial puritanism is that it could, with time, develop into one of the definitive ethos of the institution, with gradable assessments on grooming. That could give its graduates an edge over others. The mantra of the school could even be revised to something catchy: We dress the body, the mind takes care of its own.

And if there such a high premium on sartorial uniformity, one would be tempted to ask why Kemu does not impose a school uniform policy. That way, they’d ensure not just quality on fabric and colours, but also how the shirts are cut and styled.

Finally, if there is outward uniformity, they could push towards students cramming same facts and having similar outlook on life. After all, diversity of opinion and outlook is bad for students’ health, in body and mind.

The Standard
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