NOVEMBER 28, 2023 — During a typical Commencement celebration at UTSA, everyone is wearing a cap and gown, but some look very different than others. UTSA Today has tapped into the history behind the academic regalia to find out what the different colors and styles represent.
The tradition of the academic dress dates back nearly eight centuries. In medieval Europe, all townsmen wore long, flowing robes or gowns. The materials and colors varied greatly, according to the wealth and rank of the individual and were governed by royal decree. Gradually, distinctive gowns were developed for the various professions, trades and guilds. Today, this tradition remains for gowns of religious orders and judiciary and in academic regalia.
Through the years, great diversity in color and style of cap, gown and hood have evolved. In 1895, a commission was established to come up with a uniform code for academic costume. Today, the gowns, hoods and mortarboards worn by the graduating students of most institutions, including UTSA, follow this code.
At UTSA, the gowns and mortarboards are navy blue, one of the university’s official colors. The style of the gowns vary depending on the degree the student receives. The sleeves of the gowns worn by the master’s degree recipients are square at the end.
The doctoral degree recipients’ gowns have flowing sleeves with three bars of velvet and a facing of velvet down the front with the UTSA seal. The velvet trim is five inches wide for the doctoral degree. The color of the velvet border indicates the degree and aligns with the tassel colors listed below.
A group of doctoral graduates wear the traditional doctoral garb, which features three bars of velvet on the sleeves and velvet down the front with the UTSA seal.
The biggest difference in regalia can be found in the hood, which identifies the graduate degree and institution from which it was awarded. For master’s students, the hood is short. For those receiving a doctoral degree, the hood is longer and lined with silk in the official colors of the student’s institution. UTSA’s hoods are lined in orange with one white chevron.
The academic caps have their own special meanings. Developed in the 15th century, some caps were stiff, some soft, some square and some round with a tuft in the center.
The tassel used today is an elaboration of the tuft. While some institutions still use the round caps, most institutions, including UTSA, have adopted the mortarboard style that comes from Oxford University. Students earning terminal degrees wear a tam instead of a mortarboard.
The tassel color for graduate degrees indicates the discipline in which the degree has been earned, except that a gold bullion tassel is worn by recipients of doctoral degrees.
For a bachelor’s degree, the tassel's colors represent the university in a tricolor of orange, blue and white. The gold cord, worn by some undergraduate students, indicates graduation with honors: summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude. Graduates will also wear one or more stoles, indicating individual achievements such as being a student in Honors College or a first-generation college student.
UTSA leadership and faculty wear robes representing the university where they earned their highest degree. President Taylor Eighmy’s regalia, for example, is from the University of New Hampshire, where he earned his Ph.D. in environmental engineering. Eighmy is in the Roadrunner spirit with his orange hood, which signifies his engineering degree.
Eighmy also wears the UTSA Presidential Medallion, which symbolizes the authority and responsibility vested in the UTSA President. The brass medallion has the university’s seal on one side and the words “Presented by the UTSA Development Board in honor of the University’s 25th anniversary—1994” on the other side.
President Eighmy's regalia represents where he earned his Ph.D. in environmental engineering. He also wears the UTSA Presidential Medallion.
Blue Violet: architecture, urban and regional planning
Brown: art, interior design
Citron: American studies, anthropology, bicultural and bilingual studies, geography, Mexican American Studies, social work
Dark Blue: justice policy, philosophy, political science
Drab: business, data analytics
Gold: criminal justice, psychology
Golden Yellow: sciences, mathematics
Light Blue: education
Peacock Blue: public administration
Sage: health, kinesiology, public health
White: classical studies, history, humanities, multidisciplinary studies, sociology, languages, women's studies
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