EDC Monthly: June

Each month we round up dress code (and dress code-adjacent) stories that we’ve encountered, or that we’ve been thinking about. (Revisit back issues from May and April.) Please send us suggestions!

Just in case you haven’t heard: the TDSB’s Appropriate Dress policy is currently being revised, and we have high expectations!

The student activist group Not Just Rumours is working to change how incidents of teacher sexual misconduct are dealt with by the TDSB and by the province. We wrote about them in our last Monthly, and we presented delegations alongside them at May’s Governance and Policy Committee meeting. Since then, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection released the first ever national inventory of sexual assaults perpetrated by school employees in Canada. (The report is available on the CCCP website, and includes the voices of survivors.) And the Chicago Tribune published a detailed investigation into teacher sexual assaults in Chicago Public Schools. Both projects underscore how important the work of Not Just Rumours is — follow them on Twitter, like them on FB, sign their petition, please.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018! In Petaluma, California, Lulabel Seitz’s valedictory address was cut off when she referred to sexual assault on campus. In Covington, Kentucky, Christian Bales’ valedictory speech was rejected — even after his parents assured the principal that their son would follow the dress code for boys: slacks, dress shoes, dress shirt, no jewelry, no makeup. So Bales gave his speech after the ceremony, through a megaphone: “There will be more students like me… There will be more gender nonconforming students, queer students, trans students. That’s not going to stop.” (Unfortunately, his tribute to student activism included a shoutout to March for Lifers. I guess no one is perfect…)

Kevin Kodra’s grad photo is perfect:


But Victoria DiPaolo’s yearbook quote is still the GOAT:

Edmonton’s public school board voted unanimously to encourage school administrators to revise their dress codes “to remove references to girls’ or boys’ clothing and nix rules that could single out races, religions, or body shapes.”

Current dress codes vary. Harry Ainlay High School’s code says clothing should be “suitable for modesty”…

Speaking of modesty, Dr. Fern Riddell’s reaction to the Globe & Mail‘s decision to reserve the title “Dr.” for medical doctors prompted a fascinating post on the concept from Debbie Cameron.

Historically modesty has been seen, along with chastity, piety and obedience, as a quintessentially female virtue, a quality women should cultivate not only as evidence of their goodness, but also as a mark of their femininity. Today the concept of modesty is most strongly associated with religious dress-codes, but in the past it regulated every aspect of a woman’s conduct: its demands dictated not only what she wore, where she went and how she spent her time, but also – and for my purposes most significantly – how she spoke.

Though as Harry Ainlay High School demonstrates, today it isn’t only religious dress codes that attempt to enforce female modesty…

A couple days ago, the Alice Munro bench was installed in Clinton, Ontario.

Of course, before she became their “gem,” before they gave her a garish bench, Munro’s community attempted to make her modest — not for nothing was her fourth book called Who Do You Think You Are?

Anyway, all of this is just an excuse to reproduce a longish excerpt from Munro’s “Red Dress — 1946,” first published fifty years ago. “A school is a workplace,” or some variation thereof, is a common pro-dress code refrain; Alice Munro is an unflinching observer, and she knows that the idea that a school has one unambiguous meaning is an adult delusion:

At high school I was never comfortable for a minute… When I was asked a question in class, any simple little question at all, my voice was apt to come out squeaky, or else hoarse and trembling. When I had to go to the blackboard I was sure — even at a time of the month when this could not be true — that I had blood on my skirt. My hands became slippery with sweat when they were required to work the blackboard compass. I could not hit the ball in volleyball; being called upon to perform an action in front of others made all my reflexes come undone. I hated Business Practice because you had to rule pages for an account book, using a straight pen, and when the teacher looked over my shoulder all the delicate lines wobbled and ran together. I hated Science; we perched on stools under harsh lights behind tables of unfamiliar, fragile equipment, and were taught by the principal of the school, a man with a cold, self­-relishing voice — he read the Scriptures every morning — and a great talent for inflicting humiliation. I hated English because the boys played bingo at the back of the room while the teacher, a stout, gentle girl, slightly cross­eyed, read Wordsworth at the front. She threatened them, she begged them, her face red and her voice as unreliable as mine. They offered burlesqued apologies and when she started to read again they took up rapt postures, made swooning faces, crossed their eyes, flung their hands over their hearts. Sometimes she would burst into tears, there was no help for it, she had to run out into the hall. Then the boys made loud mooing noises; our hungry laughter — oh, mine too — pursued her. There was a carnival atmosphere of brutality in the room at such times, scaring weak and suspect people like me.

But what was really going on in the school was not Business Practice and Science and English, there was something else that gave life its urgency and brightness. That old building, with its rock­-walled clammy basements and black cloakrooms and pictures of dead royalties and lost explorers, was full of the tension and excitement of sexual competition…


Phase I of the TDSB’s review of Policy P042 (Appropriate Dress) began and ended at yesterday’s Governance and Policy Committee meeting. The committee discussed, and then approved, the recommendation that P042 be revised.

The committee’s decision was informed by no less than ten delegations on dress codes in the TDSB — six oral delegations and four written submissions. Each delegate described the deleterious effects that dress codes based on P042 have had on student wellbeing and student achievement. Each delegate called for an equity-based approach to Board dress policy. And each delegate mercilessly slayed. In their prepared statements and in their responses to committee members’ questions, delegates were articulate, and uncompromising, and totally convincing.

Serendipitously, the other major item on the agenda was a review of Board policies related to sexual harassment and misconduct. Student activists from #NotJustRumours, and parents from the same community, delivered delegations describing how current Board policies have failed, and how they want to see these policies change. They decried an institutional inability to deal with sexual harassment, and the collateral damage this inability does to students’ dignity. This after the dress code delegates had described institutionalized sexual harassment, as well as racial profiling, and the impact this has on students’ dignity. It was impossible to miss the connections between the two agenda items. And, given the fierce commitment of delegates for both items, as well as the thoughtful support of Trustees Ausma Malik and Shelley Laskin, it was impossible not to hope that meaningful change might actually come to this institution.

Check out the Board’s plan for for what’s left of the P042 review here. Some amendments to this plan were made at yesterday’s meeting; our understanding of the updated timeline is as follows:

  • ASAP: The executive superintendent of Equity, Engagement and Well-being, Jim Spyropoulos, will send a system letter to TDSB principals to inform them that P042 is under review, to invite them to consider their school-based codes in light of the new Equity Policy, and to instruct them regarding the interpretation of the current policy — for example, to point out that the current policy does not suggest that enforcement be carried out via public humiliation;
  • By September: Board staff will revise P042;
  • September 12: A draft of the revised policy will be presented to the Governance and Policy Committee, and subsequently shared with principals;
  • September – December: The draft of the revised policy will be the subject of public consultations for 90 days, and feedback from these consultations will be incorporated into the revised policy;
  • January 2019: A new draft policy will be presented to the Governance and Policy Committee;
  • February 2019: The new draft of the revised policy will be presented to the Board of Trustees for final approval;
  • Spring 2019: Information and training sessions will be conducted for TDSB staff affected by the new policy.

We plan to play a prominent role in this fall’s public consultations, and to hold everyone involved accountable to this timeline. We’ll need your help to do so. Keep an eye on this site, follow us on Twitter, like us on FB, subscribe to our newsletter — one way or another, please keep in touch!

What we want

Perhaps Policy P042 (Appropriate Dress) was written with good intentions. The school-based dress codes it has given rise to, however, have bad consequences. Those consequences — the discrimination produced by school-based codes — have been the focus of the End Dress Codes Collective to this point.

We will certainly continue to document and discuss the discrimination produced by dress codes. But now that the TDSB is beginning the process of revising Policy P042, we want to make clear what we are expecting at the end of this process. We know what’s wrong with the way things are; what follows is a very brief outline of the way we want things to be.

We want a dress policy that explicitly aims to produce equity.

The TDSB does not have to invent such a policy from scratch.

The Oregon chapter of the National Organization of Women created a Model Dress Code to help school boards through the process that the TDSB is now embarking upon. The premise of this Model Code is “Student dress codes should support equitable educational access . . .”

The NOW Model Dress Code is not merely theoretical. At the beginning of this school year, Evanston Township High School put it into practice. Rapturous press followed.

The National Women’s Law Center, in collaboration with twenty-one Black girls who are now or were recently students in D.C. public schools, just released Dress Coded: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools. Their report includes policy recommendations, the first of which is “All schools should begin their dress codes with an equity policy.”

Closer to home, the Greater Victoria School District adopted a new dress code policy in April. Two highlights:

3.1 Students may attend school and school-related functions in dress of their choice under the conditions that the choices:
3.1.1 Conform with established health and safety requirements for the intended activity; and
3.1.2 Do not promote drugs or alcohol; display offensive language or images; or encourage discrimination.

[Dress codes will be enforced] consistently and in a manner that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income or body type and size…

It isn’t hard, and, given the above examples, it’s no longer novel: the TDSB’s dress code policy should be designed to encourage, rather than impede, equity.

We want staff and students to receive training in how to implement an equity-focused dress policy.

In Florida, a high school student is accused of violating the dress code because she is not wearing a bra. Her school’s Code of Conduct “does not say bras must be worn by female students.”

In Toronto, a high school student is disciplined for not wearing a bra. Her school’s dress code doesn’t say she has to wear a bra.

In Winnipeg, a three-year-old girl’s sundress is considered inappropriate for her nursery school. The school’s director refers to a dress code which does not, in fact, exist.

And back in Toronto, a middle school student is sent home because her hair is “too poofy.” The school’s principal makes reference to professionalism, but does not mention a dress code.

It is vital that Policy P042 be revised so that it encourages equity — but it isn’t enough. Dress-based discrimination happens in schools with or without dress codes. We think policies like P042 embolden the sorts of impromptu disciplining illustrated above — but we don’t think the revision of P042 will make incidents like these go away entirely.

Instead, the TDSB must commit time and money to training staff and students to understand the values behind a revised dress code policy. The Board must change the policy, and then do the relatively difficult work of changing how school staff practice. As it happens, the folks in the End Dress Codes Collective have extensive experience facilitating workshops for both teachers and students on this subject, and we are ready to help.

That’s what we want. Actually, we expect no less from a Board that prides itself on being “recognized as a world leader in equitable and inclusive schools.” Most importantly, it’s what TDSB students need to be successful and reach their full potential.


Tl;dr: TDSB Policy P042 (Appropriate Dress) will be revised over the coming months. The revision process begins at the Wednesday, May 30th Governance and Policy Committee meeting at 4:30 at the Board office at 5050 Yonge Street. Members of the public are welcome to present a delegation to the committee, either by speaking (for up to five minutes) or in writing. We’re calling on anyone interested to register to delegate (requests must be submitted by Monday, May 28th), and to tell the Board we want a policy that is designed to foster equity. The End Dress Codes Collective is eager to help with the delegation process, from registration to crafting a presentation. Please get in touch!

Since last summer, the End Dress Codes Collective has made a concerted effort to sit down with trustees, TDSB committees, and TDSB staff to argue for the revision of TDSB Policy P042 (Appropriate Dress).

This past winter, we came to understand that P042 would indeed be revised, but that the revision process would not begin until a yet-to-be-determined month in the 2018-19 school year.

When it comes to dealing with policies that perpetuate oppression, we don’t have a lot of patience. In March, three of us — one current student, one former student, one teacher — presented delegations to the Board’s Governance and Policy Committee, and asked that the timetable for the revision of P042 be expedited. We want it to start now.

We have just learned that the revision of P042 is starting NOW!

Well, next week. At next Wednesday’s Governance and Policy Committee meeting, phase one of the revision process will begin when the committee sets parameters for the process.

Members of the public — i.e. YOU! — are welcome to address the committee on Wednesday, by speaking for up to five minutes, or by submitting a written statement. We are calling on all interested students, former students, parents and guardians, and just anyone who cares about social justice, to register to delegate. (Requests must be submitted by Monday, May 28th.)

There will be further opportunities for public participation in the revision process in the coming months. But we’d love to begin with a bang! — to show the Board that we’re paying attention, and we’re impatient for a policy that, rather than referring to dangerously fuzzy concepts like “appropriateness” and “decency,” is designed to foster equity.

The meeting next Wednesday, May 30th, is at 4:30 at the Board office at 5050 Yonge Street. Please let us know if you have any interest in being a delegate, or if you’d like help registering to delegate or crafting a statement. We will be there, and we’d love to see you there, too!

EDC Monthly: May

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.

On May 11th, they coordinated walkouts at three TDSB schools. Which, like, um, holy shit! Follow them on Twitter, like them on FB, sign their petition, gawk at their courage and coolness.

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“…

Oranges and Lemons: Dress Codes in the YRDSB

In some classrooms, children are taught the “Oranges and Lemons” (or “Apples and Onions”) method of giving feedback. It’s a good news / room-for-improvement news approach: oranges are sweet — they represent purely positive feedback; lemons are sour — they represent constructive criticism. Let’s use this approach to talk about dress codes in the York Region District School Board. We’ll start with the bad news.

Lemons: In some YRDSB classrooms, children are taught from kindergarten that if they are girls, and they experience harassment, it is their fault. A YRDSB parent recently contacted us and shared the dress code that is in place at their child’s K-3 YRDSB school. It states that students “are to come to school dressed modestly yet comfortably,” and is largely directed at girls:

No bare midriff, no visible undergarments, no short shorts (arm’s length including fingertips is a good measure), no spaghetti straps or low cut tank tops. Straps should be 3 fingers wide.

None of this is novel — we’ve seen it all before, and it’s egregious in any context. But in a K-3 context? Directed at children as young as three, and no older than nine? Talk about tart! (That’s tart as in sour, not as in slut — though certainly this dress code perpetuates tart-as-in-slut shaming!)

Oranges: The parent who reached out to us subsequently raised the issue at a Parent Council meeting. Perhaps they pointed out that the YRDSB’s own policies consistently refer to the OHRC. For example, #240 claims that “The Board is firmly committed to meeting its obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code”; #261 states that all Board policies will incorporate the principles of equity and inclusivity “consistent with the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code”; and #635 lists the OHRC and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as considerations for developing a dress code — and states that all codes “must consider the diversity of the community in terms of . . . gender and other factors.” At any rate, the school principal acknowledged the issue and invited the parent to write a new code, to be voted on at the next Parent Council meeting. Sweet!

Perhaps the principal abhors slut shaming and victim blaming and has a vision of the school as a model of equitableness and a bastion of student liberation; or maybe the principal found themselves looking at a policy they’d never really reflected on before and intuited that it might not be legit legally. Whatever — the chance to create a new way of doing things is as sweet either way!

Our sample TDSB school-based codes all come from high schools — we’ve found it difficult to track down codes for junior and middle schools, even though we know that they exist. If you can contribute such a code, we’d be grateful. And if you want to talk about changing a code, in the TDSB or elsewhere, please reach out any time.

EDC Monthly: April

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!

Oppressive dress codes are bad, but anti-code student activism is the best. Sometimes this activism is underpinned by thoughtful organizing: see, for example, the work of Les Carrés Jaunes in Quebec. And sometimes it’s a spur of the moment expression of anger and frustration: check out Max and Jade’s clothing swap. Either way, it’s galvanizing.

Also in Quebec, girls in Gatineau were sent home for wearing ripped jeans.

Cédrik Coyle, 16, said he thinks there’s a double standard at the school because he wore ripped jeans to class earlier this week and he wasn’t asked to change.

“I really think sexism should stop,” he said.

In Florida, Lizzy Martinez called for a bracott after a school administrator gave her Band-Aids to cover her nipples (in addition to an undershirt and a t-shirt). Lizzy’s story reminds us so much of Dani’s experience in Toronto, especially this detail:

[School administrators] insisted that she was violating the school dress code. (The 2017-2018 Code of Student Conduct does not say bras must be worn by female students.)

(By the way, will someone please write an essay exploring what is implied by the Band-Aids in this story? Are nipples wounds?!) (Come to think of it, so many of these stories imply that female-presenting bodies are always already injured, are abrasions that must be constantly covered up though they’ll never heal, are sites, and sources, of trauma…)

At GM, CEO Mary Barra replaced a 10-page dress code with two words: “Dress appropriately.” Her premise is striking:

…if you have a lot of overly prescriptive policies and procedures, people will live down to them,” she said.

“But if you let people own policies themselves…it helps develop them.”



The End Dress Codes Collective is looking for stories about dress code discipline in the Toronto District School Board. Browse our archive of anecdotes, and get in touch if you can add to it. Anonymous contributions are welcome, and we won’t post your story to the site if you don’t want us to.

I was pretty outgoing in high school. I was quick to join lots of clubs and sign up up for different events and opportunities. I was really engaged with the school newspaper. I was also super dedicated to our Gender-Sexuality Alliance. Early on in high school I sort of became my school’s poster child for queerness just by being vocally out, so I ran with it and genuinely enjoyed being as visible as I was. I was more interested in extracurriculars than academics, though I managed to do well pretty well in both aspects.

I think my leaning towards more politically charged extracurriculars started with my interest in LGBTQ+ politics. I remember reading about queer activism around the seventh grade and feeling like I couldn’t sit around and not do anything to help, but I also didn’t know how to take action. The summer before high school I visited Washington, D.C. with my mom, and one day while we were walking around the city I saw volunteers with clipboards asking for signatures regarding something related to same-sex marriage. I kept looking back at them, kept wanting to go and ask how I could help, but I didn’t. So when I entered high school, a newspaper seemed like the perfect place to at least voice my concerns, if nothing else. It felt like a good way to start helping out.

My wardrobe never broke my high school’s dress code, so I was never personally called out. However, by the second semester of my grade eleven year, almost all of my friends were being dress coded. The moment that tipped me over the edge was when I witnessed one female identified student being lectured by a few female teachers on her clothing choices. The slut-shaming was what I found most problematic — lots of talk of how the student wanted to be perceived by her male peers and the level of respect she had for herself. It was nauseating to me. That was when I first talked seriously with a friend about all the dress coding that was going on. There was a level of urgency to that conversation. My friend and I wanted to take the matter into our own hands.

Spring 2015 was truly one of my favourite semesters. After having that initial conversation of, “hey, this isn’t right, something’s got to be done,” we were on the lookout for stories of students getting dress-coded. We kind of added them all to our mental archives, while still trying to figure out what we were going to do about it. Then one day in mid-spring a friend of ours told us their account of being dress-coded that day, and I think we just wanted to do something right then, right there. We landed on the idea of putting up posters around the school with messages like, “My body, my choice,” and “A girl’s clothing choices do not dictate the amount of respect she deserves.” That afternoon my friend used up all his print credits in class to print out posters with those messages on them, I got duct tape from a couple different teachers, then we met up after school and waited until most people had gone home to start putting them up. All the posters were gone by the morning, but the next day we printed some more and quickly put them up again during lunch. Those were also taken down, but that was almost a good sign for us — there was pushback because there was clearly a problem.

At this point we wanted to do something on a bigger scale to make change. With the help of a staff ally, we started a committee dedicated to changing the dress code. The next school year, we added two more members to our committee, and the four of us wrote a short presentation on the problems we had with the dress code. After many, many edits, we finally sat down with our principal and made our case.

The presentation went smoothly, and a few weeks later we sat down with the principal again for a followup meeting. Our expectation was that the prohibition on hair picks, which we argued was racist, would be removed from the code immediately, and that the rest of the code would be revised over the following school year. To our surprise and dismay, the principal told us hair picks would remain prohibited. Suddenly we all went off script, making the same arguments we had made before, but this time with less patience. There was no reason for it to stay, and our rapid-fire arguments and urgent tones communicated that loud and clear. Eventually, we convinced the principal (again) to cut picks from the code. It was both a small victory, and an important one, because it was the first.

Afterwards I felt like a total badass, because it was kind of like a scene out of a movie. Somehow we all spoke incredibly articulately, in a very fast and well-choreographed way. We knew exactly what we wanted to leave that room hearing, and we made it pretty clear that we weren’t leaving without hearing it. That we were forces to be reckoned with, people worth taking seriously. I felt pretty invincible, to be honest.

In university I’m pretty focused on doing LGBTQ+ related work. I’m part of student groups like NewPRIDE and LGBTOUT, and I’m the co-chair of a leadership conference for LGBTQ+ students through U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, where I also work as a weekly discussion group facilitator. The climate at U of T right now surrounding non-binary gender identities is tense. I’ve spoken to high school students who have voiced concern about attending U of T because they don’t know if they’ll be able to use gender neutral pronouns in class, or if they’ll even feel safe on campus around certain peers. The discourse around NB identities has meant that now more than ever, it’s important to have spaces where queer and trans* folks can voice concerns, decompress, access resources, get peer support, and simply know that we have their backs.

One reason I fought the dress code was to give back power to students by letting them wear what felt right to them. I feel like my activism work now is also motivated by the desire to give back power to queer and trans* folks who have been made to feel so belittled over the past year and a half (and historically, always). I don’t see why anyone should have the right to tell other people how to dress or what pronouns to use or who to be. We should be allowed to make our own choices.

Mahfam is studying neuroscience, psychology, and sexual diversity studies at the University of Toronto. On the weekends, she is busy being a global lesbian icon.

The role of the guidance counsellor

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.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 11.09.36 AMThat 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!

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam(s): Aye Nako

We’d argue vocerifously that Aye Nako’s Silver Haze is among the best albums of 2017. Over twelve dense, melodic, inventive tracks, the band grapples “with identity — the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality operate in differing ways for the four band members, and exploring these traumas together provides a sense of healing.” Sources of healing were, of course, welcome in 2017, as they are every year.

We’re posting a flawless live session the band performed in April, in which Jade and Mars reveal they live with a dog named Broccolini, and in which Joe plays a bass bearing the message “ARM TEENAGE GIRLS” — a sentiment that’s evergreen, but that feels especially urgent as this year comes to a close.