As temperatures drop, so does the number of students partaking in an unusual Union trend: walking around campus barefoot. During warm months, some students forgo shoes not only outdoors, but in classes and campus buildings.
But university dress code, found on page 33 of the Union University Student Handbook, states, “Footwear is required on the campus grounds with the exception of the playing areas immediately adjacent to the residence complexes and the athletic fields. Footwear is required in the Academic Buildings and the Student Union Building.” Are students going barefoot in Barefoots Joe breaking the rules?
Bryan Carrier, dean of students, said he noticed the beginnings of “the shoeless trend” several years ago and that, in most instances, it does not bother him.
“I think the struggle is, it’s a policy, it’s there, but do you need the dean running around looking at people’s feet telling them to put shoes on? Probably not,” he said.
Carrier said that certain campus areas, such as Health Services, the dining hall and the library, will enforce the policy for safety or hygiene reasons. In most other areas, he said the conflict is between written and unwritten rules.
“Is it a rule to drive the speed limit? Absolutely. Will you get in trouble sometimes if you don’t? Absolutely,” Carrier said. “Do the vast majority of people break the speed limit sometimes? Absolutely.”
Carrier said he is less concerned about this trend because he sees it as a larger cultural shift that should be discussed among peers.
“I don’t think the way you address culture, by and large, is by administrative oversight,” he said. “If enough people address it and it’s an issue to them…I think it’ll change.”
Carrier said Union is an institution which encourages students to think critically about societal norms.
“People are trying to figure out, ‘Society tells me I have to wear shoes, there are a lot of countries where people don’t. What’s right, what’s wrong?’” he said. “But that’s a healthy conversation to have. And when we have that conversation in an environment where the ultimate purpose is for the betterment of people and our community, I think that’s a positive thing.”
Kristine Burgess, sophomore nursing major, said she usually wears shoes to class, but after growing up in Cambodia, where she rarely wore shoes, walking barefoot outside felt more natural to her.
“Whenever weather permits it, I just figure I don’t want to deny my feet the pleasure of feeling all the wonderful things that can be felt,” Burgess said, listing soft clover, hard-packed earth, and hot pavement as some of her favorite textures.
Burgess added there is sometimes a laziness factor. “If I want to go outside, I can just get up and run outside. I don’t have to worry about putting on shoes,” she said.
But she said she understands why shoes are recommended and that she will wear shoes to “submit to the culture” when people are uncomfortable with bare feet.
Burgess said she sees Union as a home all students share. “I think it’s cool for people to be able to be comfortable to wear what they want to wear and be themselves,” she said. “And if it’s a cultural thing, it’s cool that it’s a mix of cultures and a different lifestyles.”
Johnny Fulks, sophomore ministry and missions major, said he grew up in Uganda, where shoes were seen as fancy and unnecessary for most occasions.
“I just find that going barefoot is a lot more practical,” Fulks said. “It saves time tying your shoes and putting them on, and less laundry with socks.”
Fulks said he wears shoes to church and in required places like the dining hall, but otherwise avoids them. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Kroger with shoes,” he said.
But Fulks said he is not out to break rules. “When I first started [going barefoot], I felt like I got a lot of judgment and a lot of hate from people,” he said. “A lot of people see walking around barefooted as disrespectful and defiant…I can easily understand why people would see it like that, but for me it’s not an act of defiance. It’s me being me.”