Students question inconsistent dress code policy

Photo+by+Kristine+Cho

Photo by Kristine Cho

Katie Whaley

Sophomore Harper Dailey walked through the main hallway as any other student would. She carried a laptop, which she wished to return to the media center. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her until she heard a loud voice.
“Pull down your shirt,” a teacher yelled at Dailey.
Confused, Dailey looked down to where her shirt hem sat half an inch above her belly button. When she looked up, all eyes were on her.
Dailey hastily pulled her shirt down and covered her exposed stomach by zipping her jacket closed. She walked faster now to the media center, feeling as though everyone she passed was judging her. For the rest of the day she felt stuck in this same state: anxiety.
“[Getting dress coded] honestly made me feel really insecure and degraded, as if I’m just a sexual object,” Dailey said. “All I did was wear a shirt that showed maybe two inches of my stomach, and they told me to pull [my shirt] down. My stomach isn’t a sexual object; it shouldn’t distract people.”
Dailey thinks calling attention to girls for wearing ‘distracting’ clothes is unjustified. To her, it’s more than one minor issue.
“Teenage girls already have so many insecurities. After finally learning to how to be confident in my body, being told that it’s an inconvenience to someone else can hurt,” Dailey said. “If my body is an inconvenience to someone’s ability to learn, then that shows that their opinions are more valuable than my self-worth.”
One person who relates to feeling wrongly targeted and pressured under this system is junior Rosalind Eggener. Through her years at RBHS, Eggener has grown comfortable in wearing more revealing clothing such as crop tops and backless shirts, which have developed into her own style, and she loves it.
But the love ends around there, because as many compliments and admirations she gets, she receives a similar amount of scorning looks from teachers and faculty members. And that, she doesn’t love.
“I often feel attacked, and objectified and angry [when I’m dress coded],” Eggener said. “I recognize that it’s a school setting I’m in and the rules can be different than out in the world. However, when I’ve been dress coded, my outfits have been described as distracting, and I don’t believe that it’s my responsibility to keep other people focused. It’s theirs.”
Along with those problems, Eggener described how there can be a stark difference in executing dress code to girls compared to boys. She believes the teachers are stricter on the girls for what they can and can’t wear than they are on the boys.
“I believe that [dress codes] should be equal for all students. If a girl track student can’t run shirtless, a boy shouldn’t either. If I can’t show my back or my shoulders, a guy shouldn’t either,” Eggener said. “I’ve never seen a guy at RB get dress coded. Just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but it for sure happens far less.”
Dailey agrees, saying the system is unfair because it allows the rules to completely ignore one gender and target the other.
“I don’t think the genders are dress coded equally at all,” Dailey said. “I have never seen a guy get dress coded, but when a girl shows as little as her belly button, she’s automatically told to pull her shirt down.”
Unbeknownst to the girls, however, there has been at least one instance where a boy got dress coded.
Or, at least, almost did.

Insight from the mind of boys

This near dress code offender, sophomore Gabriel Montie, found himself in a dilemma when a teacher was about to ask him to change clothes but reconsidered and didn’t. And why the teacher didn’t dress code Montie frustrated him.
“Administration once tried to dress code me for wearing a small crop top and low skinny jeans because from behind they thought I was a girl,” Montie said. “It didn’t bother me personally, but it was idiotic that I was to be dress coded when they thought I was a girl but left me alone when they discovered I wasn’t. I found it to be heavily sexist.”
Montie further explained his discomfort with the dress code through a second-hand experience that occurred last year.
“During either one of the spirit days or one of those cross country clothing theme days …it was beach themed and a guy showed up with just shorts and a towel around his neck,” Montie said.
He went on to say that administrators thought this was ‘technically okay’ because the towel over the guy’s shoulders ‘covered his chest.’ Montie didn’t know of any consequences that came out of the guy’s outfit, or lack of one, but did think it was immoral to not dress code him.
“Now solely because (most) females have breasts, if one were to show up to school wearing just that, it would be considered inappropriate,” Montie said. “She’d have to put on a shirt and probably be in some sort of trouble.”
And of course a girl wearing no shirt would be in trouble, Montie reasoned. A line from the CPS handbook proves his assumption, stating, “Extremes in dress and/or grooming which may …detract from a desirable educational setting, are inappropriate for school.” A girl would be in trouble for only covering her chest with a towel.
According to the same line, however, a boy should also be in trouble for the same offense, Dailey believes.
“Isn’t that distracting, too?” Dailey asked.
Whether clothing is distracting or not is determined by teachers and faculty of the school. If none of them take action against an outfit, then a student can wear it. Dailey believes this isn’t a system that promotes equality, yet she can’t do anything about it.

View from administration, a contradicting perspective

Despite all the criticism toward the system, assistant principal Dr. Tim Baker believes the system is a perfect fit for RBHS.
“We don’t have our own ‘specific’ dress code.  We tend to use ‘Freedom with Responsibility’ as it applies to dress and grooming. We appreciate and accept student right to ‘express themselves,’” Dr. Baker said. “However, like most things, it is a subjective call if/when it is an educational distraction. We simply ask students to dress respectfully of themselves and others and we’ll address extremes as necessary.”
Despite this, he admits there are often problems interpreting loosely written rules. In this case, it’s the “grey area” for differentiating acceptable and unacceptable attire. He said it can be difficult, under some circumstances, to determine whether clothing is acceptable or not. Having it any other way, however, he believes would be harder to keep fair all around.
“I think explicitly written policies and examples can become tricky and very challenging to apply equally,” Dr. Baker said. “Our choice of not writing a very detailed list of what is and not appropriate, in our minds, tends to level the playing field and at least somewhat eliminates ‘judging.’”
Though aware of Dr. Baker’s logic, Eggener has her own perspective on the system and how it really plays out in RBHS.
“As it’s written in the rule book, RB principles may decide what is and isn’t appropriate, which initially sounds pretty carefree, but I’ve discovered throughout my time at RB that it mostly just allows for a lot of inconsistency,” Eggener said. “Some people get dress coded for things that others don’t, all depending on what the principles see, which ones see it and how they feel about it that day.”
Despite pointing out flaws in the system, Eggener believes there’s a way to solve the entire dress code issue.
“We should teach people to control themselves, because bodies exist. That’s something we can’t help,” Eggener said. “What we can help though, what we can control, is whether or not we gawk and become distracted by them. Everyone has the willpower to keep their eyes and mind on their work.”
What do you think about dress code at RBHS? Is there a need for change?