Middle school students in Oregon are speaking out about their school district’s “discriminatory” dress code policy, saying it “induces rape culture” and demanding change.
Claire Campbell, 14; Kate Holliday, 14; Aimee Pierce, 14; Bella Blea, 14; and Addison Campbell, 13, who are students in the Salem-Keizer Public Schools district, discussed the issue at the School Board’s board meeting on June 11, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
In a video of the board meeting posted on YouTube, Claire described how being called out for dress code violations can make students feel “ashamed, hurt, small, not relevant, ugly, not loved and embarrassed.”
“The staff reminds us to love ourselves every day, but if you want us to love ourselves so desperately, then why tell us to cover ourselves when you see us?” she said.
The official district dress code states that “clothing such as, or substantially similar to halter tops, tube tops, backless tops/dresses, cut-offs, and clothing which exposes inappropriate areas, including midriffs” is disruptive to the learning environment.
The teenagers explained to the Salem Statesman Journal how outfits they typically wear would go against the dress code for issues like exposed bra straps, visible shoulders, short-shorts or a shirt rising to show midriff.
“I think it’s fine that there’s a dress code, but it’s kind of discriminating because I’ve never seen a boy get dressed coded,” said Claire in a video posted by the Salem Statesman Journal. “It’s just been like the ladies at the schools. I’d say it’s body shaming for sure because you get pulled out in the hallway, they tell you you’re being distracting, or the boys are looking at you, or something like that.”
In the same video, the other girls also described their experiences, some of which discuss men shaming them for their outfits, and staff pulling them aside because what they are wearing may be “distracting to boys.”
“I had a male teacher come up to me and say ‘Kate you don’t need to show your thighs to the world,’” Kate recounted.
Aimee added that she believes the dress “induces rape culture because it tells guys ‘If she’s wearing short shorts, then she’s asking for it,’ which is totally not right.”
Addison described how upsetting it can be when an outfit is publicly shamed because of the effect it has on boys.
“When you’re trying to shop or get new clothes, and you see something you want to wear, you always have think what about the dress code,” Addison told the school board. “If you do get it and you’re excited about wearing it, and you get humiliated in the hallway because your bra strap is showing or it’s too short or it doesn’t cover something that’s distracting to boys, it’s really disappointing.”
In the board meeting, the students pushed for a more “progressive dress code” and made suggestions about what should be allowed, which included hats, midriff-baring shirts within reason, athletic wear and ripped jeans.
Director of Community Relations and Communications at Salem-Keizer Public Schools Lillian Govus said the district had actually begun working on changing the dress code even before the students spoke out at the board meeting. The code is a district-level decision, affecting 65 schools and 42,000 students.
“The new dress code will not look anything like our cold code, and we’re working through our equity lens to ensure that our new code supports student-learning, is body-positive and is considerate of our students with special needs who may be triggered by lights or sounds,” Govus told Yahoo Lifestyle. “We began working on updating our dress code earlier this year with the plan to roll it out for the 2019-20 school year, so the students’ comments were very timely.”
Govus added that the students who spoke at the board meeting were “very poised and compelling” and said that they “definitely made an impact.” According to Govus, the district will use their comments to help guide conversation about the dress code policy.
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