All college grads know the living hell of negotiating college administration, public or private. They’ve seen it all, they have known it all, they are Prufrock’s grandparents in terms of world-weary existential ennui. You need them to fit you into a full class you desperately need in order to graduate on time? Maybe the universe has a reason for making you wait another semester to graduate, missing the ceremony with your friends and also mucking up your grad school plans.

Nobody put up a notice on the board about the last date for paying your fee and now you’re on probation? The universe wants you to reflect on the psychic quirks of the accounts office peon, who was supposed to do it but forgot. The universe also perhaps wants to teach you that college administration exists in a parallel universe with laws unto itself. But if you’re lucky, yours isn’t telling you not to wear shalwar kameez only on Fridays, with shoes, lest you forget and wear your shalwar kurta with none.

Luckily, I went to a college where one wasn’t allowed to wear shorts inside the main building, but if you were running from your dorm room to an eight a.m class in your nightsuit nobody minded. Sometimes I wore a paranda, lots of boys wore shalwar kameez on days that weren’t Friday because they had to do laundry and everything else was dirty. No college officials wasted their time monitoring the length of anyone’s shirt because they knew that it didn’t matter what you wore or how you wore it as long as you made the grades required for a successful college career. That’s all. That is the extent of their job. But no! Our very own Naval University will make sure you don’t miss your interfering neighbourhood aunty one bit while you’re away at college, because here is your nifty dress code! Parents all over the land, breathe a sigh of relief. Your precious kiddies will not be wearing sleeveless at all, male or female. Not even when playing basketball, because armpits are the devil’s own work and must never be seen by anyone. Not even their owners, if possible. Men may only wear plain blue jeans, so make sure you don’t pack your black ones or the cool ones with a scorpion spray-painted on the thighs. Wearing a suit or combination is all right, so you can practice looking like a poncey bureaucratic uncle right from the beginning—you never know when it will be your amazing job to write out a dress code for eighteen year olds!

The girls don’t have it any better. You have to wear a scarf or dupatta “with all dresses”. Particularly with your “full-length jeans” because if your ankles show then that is also the devil’s work. No tights, and all kameezes are to be knee-length. Also, only “light jewelry and light make up” is allowed, so please remember to leave your wedding sets at home. You will have to find other ways of working them into your wardrobe, because college is no place to be wearing a teeka and jhoomar. Maybe if you only wore the earrings from your mother’s walima set it would be all right, but please be mindful. And also leave your 100-colour eyeshadow palette home too, because nobody wants to see your daily party makeup in calculus class. We all know that college students are really only there to make unsuitable friendships with the opposite sex and if boys wore sandals and girls wore tights that would only lead to terrible debauchery. All the college children would stop working on three presentations simultaneously, reading entire novels for class tomorrow and also writing a two-thousand word paper and go completely ballistic. Maybe they would even smoke a cigarette! Oh, horror. What on earth would young women and men get up to if it weren’t for college administration walking around campus with a measuring tape to check your shirts, and a ruler to smack you on the knuckles?

Contrary to what some administrative bodies might think, college exists for one reason: to give you the education that will be your springboard into an adult life. For that, you need to learn about things like presentation skills, how not to plagiarise and how to deal with deadlines and pressures of all kinds. If you’re living in a dorm, you also learn how to survive without the crutch of your parents and family. You’re striking out on your own, and learning to decide what values you have as an individual. You’re learning the ways you will navigate the rest of your life, and that is truly an extremely important turn in any young person’s life. Now imagine that at this most crucial juncture, you jump out of the frying pan and straight into the fire that is an Overbearing Paternalistic College Administration who is quite literally telling you what you can and cannot wear, as if you were five years old again and wanting to run outside in your underwear. It’s ridiculous to keep treating young adults either like children or criminals in the making and then wonder why an entire generation is either stupid and timid or escapes to the west at the first chance. Instead of creating safe spaces for young people to find themselves in, universities are cracking the whip even louder, trying to cow them into an increasingly tighter set of acceptable behaviours. Since when did higher education become synonymous with a new level of moral policing?

 The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.