Academic Symbols and Traditions

Academic Symbols and Traditions

Academic Regalia

The academic costume is derived from the garments worn at medieval universities. The gowns and the hoods were common at British universities before the fourteenth century; the square cap is thought to be a sixteenth century import from the University of Paris. From the color and the size of the American academic attire, one may determine the institution from which the wearer received the degree, the degree earned, and the academic rank.The bachelor’s gown is usually black with pointed sleeves of almost knee length; the master’s gown has oblong sleeves reaching well below the knees, but a slit just above the elbow to allow the forearms to protrude; the doctor’s gown is faced with velvet and has full bell-shaped sleeves, each bearing three horizontal bars of velvet. The trim may be either black or a color distinctive of the degree.

The trustees of the college wear the black academic gown with deep rich green bars and gold piping. Green and gold are the Siena colors, the gold symbolizing the quality of the education, the green, the hope of the future. The president’s gown is green, with gold panels, cut in the traditional presidential pattern, with long, bell-shaped sleeves displaying four gold bars.  The trustees and president wear the Dutch style black hat with a gold tassel.  The president also wears a pewter medallion, cast in 1976, bearing the college seal on one side and Franciscan cross arms on the other.

The length of the hood also indicates whether the wearer is a bachelor, master or doctor. The silk lining of the hood is colored with the official colors of the institution conferring the degree, and the velvet border of the hood is colored according to the degree granted: white for arts and letters (Bachelor of Arts degree); drab for business areas (Bachelor of Business Administration degree); yellow gold for science (Bachelor of Science degree); dark blue for philosophy (Ph.D.); light blue for education; brown for fine arts; purple for law; citron for social service; scarlet for theology.

In 2004, a number of alumni, many of whom have represented Siena College at inaugurations of new college and university presidents, contributed to a fund to purchase new academic regalia for the use of our trustees, associate trustees and honorees. Siena College is grateful for their thoughtful generosity.

Siena Banners   

Siena College derives its name from the city of Saint Bernardine’s birth, Siena, Italy. The banners which are displayed on the Academic Quad and carried in procession by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha are replicas of those used by the various contrade or wards of the city of Siena. In the fourteenth century each contrada adopted its own emblem and colors and became known as the contrada of the Eagle, the Shell, the Snail, the Tower, the Porcupine, the Owl, etc. These banners are still proudly displayed and carried in a parade at the annual palio festivities of Siena where the banners are thrown high into the air and are dexterously caught by the hands of their bearers. They add a note of renaissance pageantry to the event. Our banners are a gift from Mr. John V. Kiskis, emeritus member of the Board of Associate Trustees.

St. Francis and St. Clare Banners


Derived from Cimabue’s famous portrait, Francis of Assisi is depicted as a Patron of Wisdom gained through Sacrificial Love. The Book is symbolic of wisdom and his extended arm is symbolic of Teaching, or the imparting of Wisdom. Francis also reveals the wounds of Christ which symbolize the Christian path to wisdom, the path of loving, selfless service of God and neighbor.


This depiction of Clare of Assisi is also derived from a famous portrait, by Tiberius of Assisi, which hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare. In his portrait, Clare is seen offering the Book (of the Gospels, presumably), while also clutching the flowers. This book in the context of Siena College  represents Wisdom, as it does in “Francis.” Clare offers wisdom and invites the student to learn. The flowers represent Contemplation and Beauty. The combination of book and flower, therefore, represent the Beauty of Wisdom gained through Contemplation.

"Saint Francis and the Birds"

One of the most beloved images of St. Francis shows him preaching to the birds. In the context of Commencement, the birds represent the spirits of our graduates, sent forth today from our Franciscan college, to spread St. Francis’ message of peace and goodness (Pax et Bonum) to the world.