Each month we round up dress code (and dress code-adjacent) stories that we’ve encountered, or that we’ve been thinking about. Please send us suggestions!
On April 25th, we facilitated a workshop for students at the Action:reAction social justice conference. One of the topics of conversation was intersectional oppression: for example, the fact that dress codes that target women end up targeting women of colour especially. The following day, this story about a report that found that dress codes in D.C. “make school disproportionately difficult for black girls” was published. The report was written by the National Women’s Law Center and twenty-one Black girls who are currently or were recently students in D.C. public schools. It includes sample dress code policies, and is full of the voices of students affected by these policies. It also includes policy recommendations — all of which are pertinent to the TDSB. Read it in full here — and then show it to your parents / teachers / principals, or your students / colleagues / admin, or your children / Parent Council / trustee, etc.!
Not Just Rumours is a group of student activists who are organizing in response to sexual misconduct by teachers in Ontario.
The students are now pressing for more action on incidents of sexual misconduct — defined as inappropriate behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by the teacher towards one or more students that doesn’t meet the standard of sexual abuse, but that a reasonable person would expect to cause distress to a student, be detrimental to their physical or mental well-being or create a negative school environment.
More stories of student resistance: at Essex District High School, Mallory Johnston was suspended for protesting the dress code (check out her awesome posters); in Grimsby, Annabella Serkhanian “could not stay silent, not this time. The quiet and poised girl exploded“; in Princeton, B.C., students sick of getting coded for showing bra straps staged a braless protest; at Cornell University, Letitia Chai took off her clothes in response to questions about the morality of short shorts; and in Tennessee, a student grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed a fellow student after he lifted up her dress without her consent.
Friend of EDC Shannon Salisbury lists “Eleven Reasons Why Watching ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ Was a Bad Life Choice.” Number seven speaks to the concerns of Not Just Rumours: “The collusion of the school staff in enabling [sexual misconduct by teachers] is super super accurate for too many.” Number eight is as follows:
Tangent related to 7 and not explicitly addressed in the series, I’m nowhere near the only person who was dress-coded by staff members for how my body filled my clothes, which, in case this is unclear, is itself a form of sexual harassment. When adults call out children and youth for their appearance, they are doing so after having sexualized those young people. This isn’t new, and it isn’t over.
Two years after trustee Jordan Watters raised the issue — and after sixteen public meetings and eight community presentations — the Greater Victoria School District adopted a new dress code policy.
In practice, it means students will be allowed to wear anything they choose so long as it conforms with “health and safety requirements for the intended activity”, and does not promote drugs or alcohol, display offensive images or language, or encourage discrimination.
Sounds reasonable to us! And as Board chairman Tom Ferris very reasonably pointed out:
There’s a limit to what you can do because you’re limited somewhat by the B.C. Human Rights Code . . . So it’s pretty hard to be restrictive and a lot of people were looking to get some kind of restrictive language in the actual dress part, like what can you or can’t you wear . . . If you look at the history of Canada, different cases across the country that have been contested, invariably any attempt to restrict dress has failed.
Now Edmonton Public Schools is considering a similar change to their dress codes approach — perhaps dissenters will find themselves limited by the Alberta Human Rights Act? Gee, the work of the End Dress Codes Collective sure would be easier if the TDSB were bound by the kind of human rights legislation they’ve got out west, am I right?!
Lastly, we looked at a York Region District School Board dress code earlier this week. The code is clearly sexist, despite the fact that — wait a second — the YRDSB is “firmly committed” to something called “the Ontario Human Rights Code“…