One teacher-member of the End Dress Codes collective recently completed an Additional Qualifications course in Guidance and Career Counselling. The first reading assigned was the Executive Summary of the American School Counselor Association’s National Model — “which is a framework for a comprehensive, data-driven school counseling program.”
The Executive Summary is only three and a half pages long, and almost one full page is taken up by a breakdown of appropriate and inappropriate activities for school counsellors. We were struck by the fifth entry in this list of fourteen binaries: “providing counseling to students as to appropriate school dress” is, according to ASCA, an appropriate activity for school counsellors, while “sending students home who are not appropriately dressed” is an inappropriate activity.
That seems reasonable. We have considered the possibility that guidance counsellors might be better suited to talk to students about what they wear than classroom teachers — and certainly the privacy of a guidance counsellor’s office is a better place for these discussions than the classroom, never mind the school hallway. However, we worry that ASCA is implying that counsellors should use their interpersonal skills to convince students to conform to their school’s dress code, while leaving administrators to dole out discipline. We worry that the implication is that, when meeting with students who seem to struggle to wear “appropriate school dress,” guidance counsellors should ask, in effect, “What is wrong with you?” — rather than, say, “What is wrong with our school’s appropriate dress policy?”
Later in the AQ course, excerpts from Intentional Interviewing and Counseling: Facilitating Client Development in a Multicultural Society were assigned. This text argues that when counsellors are working with clients from traditionally marginalized communities, “supportive counseling is not enough. For significant change to occur, prevention and social justice action are critical.” Within the guidance office, then, a counsellor should help students name and understand the systemic oppression they encounter; and within the school community, a counsellor should be involved in anti-oppression action.
The example that Intentional Interviewing gives to illustrate this part of a counsellor’s role is perfect (our emphasis):
When a female client discusses mistreatment and harassment by her supervisor, the issue of oppression of women should be named as such. The social justice perspective requires you to help her understand that the problem is not caused by her behavior or how she dresses. By naming the problem as sexism and harassment, you often free the client from self-blame and empower her for action. You can also support her in efforts to effect change in the workplace.
We doubt that this argument is compatible with ASCA’s assertion that “providing counseling to students as to appropriate school dress” is an appropriate activity for school counsellors. We argue that in the vast majority of cases, when a student is referred to a guidance counsellor because of their clothes, the counsellor’s role is to name the racist / sexist / heterosexist / victim blaming logic at work, and then to mobilize to fight this logic. If you are a guidance counsellor and you’d like to join us in this fight, we’d be happy to hear from you!