Enforcement of School Dress Code Reinforces The Idea That Not All Rules Are Created Equal

by Ayana Antoine ‘20

The school dress code designates appropriate attire for students, which is an important concept that is ineffectively being carried out. Many enforced rules are open to interpretation or simply not stated in our agenda books, and what’s most troubling is many students feel unfairly targeted as to how the restrictive rules are currently enforced.

One problem is that the dress code disproportionately targets students of color and seemingly turns a blind eye to what other students are wearing. For example, white students can get away with wearing accessories like bandanas, but if black students wear it, they may get questioned for gang affiliation. Girls of color, who often have fuller figures, have experienced getting into more trouble about their clothing. Shorts are called “excessively revealing” when there is not the same negative connotation for other students in the same outfit. The dress code further allows for an environment for body shaming by allowing thinner students to wear something that curvier students would not be permitted to wear.

At the beginning of the school year, students were given a Rights and Responsibilities handbook that describes appropriate grooming and dress for students. Under the section entitled “Dress and Grooming,” it is stated that “clothing may not cause a disruption to the educational environment.” This raises the question what qualifies as distracting. What is deemed ‘appropriate’ is a clear matter of opinion. Consider all the times when a student is wearing a hood. Some teachers swear it’s against the rule, some don’t say anything. The absurdity is there is no rule that explicitly states that wearing hoods is not permitted. This is why many students feel targeted; the rules are vague or non-existent, which leaves administrators, teachers, or any staff to arbitrarily decide what clothes to prohibit. The way the dress code is currently being enforced often feels more like bullying from school administration and staff. The definition of bully according to Webster Dictionary is to “use superior strength to intimidate, typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” What’s the difference between that and how school staff are ‘enforcing’ the dress code?

Although the dress code was created with the intentions of helping students stay on task and create a standard for appropriate clothes, the rules can have the opposite effect. The rules are so strict that at times it seems like the school would rather students have heat exhaustion than wear shorts. The school needs to revise the dress code in such a way that sets a fair and reasonable standard for all students regardless of race, sex, or size.