Students and teachers have been discussing feminism and addressing personal rights and discrimination through a campus-wide dialogue on CPS’ dress guidelines. Ms. Thomas sparked the conversation at assembly during the first week of November. When asked to repeat her announcement in an interview, Ms. Thomas stated, “I said that I was seeing too much underwear and that I didn’t know how to address it in a way that would be discreet, so I came up with this gesture that I thought could be done without anybody else noticing and that that would be the kindest, quickest, most efficient way of conveying that I thought that a person needed to cover up.” What started off as a seemingly harmless announcement took a turn when a student replied to her at assembly the following week.
Ameya F., a member of the senior class, stood up and made a speech, which responded to Ms. Thomas’ earlier announcement. She addressed topics such as freedom of expression, the sexualization of women’s bodies, and the students’ rights to dress the way they please (as long as it’s “appropriate”) due to CPS’ vague guidelines. Later that morning, Ms. Thomas sent out a Campus News email that said, “I appreciate Ameya’s announcement and welcome a dialogue on this topic… Ameya said, ‘Students are trusted to come to school dressing appropriately,’ but that was my point exactly. What if they don’t? Carried to an extreme, would we let students come to school in only a bra on top, or only briefs on bottom?” Ms. Thomas’ initial email was quickly followed by over 70 responses, the majority of which brought up thought-provoking arguments and challenging questions. Some students claimed that the administration has no right to police students’ clothing, and others asked about the definitions of “appropriate,” “professional,” and “tasteful.” At the end, Mr. Chabon provided CPS’ dress guidelines from the handbook:
“The school expects its students to appear in clothing appropriate for academic work. Such clothing should be neat and clean. In selecting clothes for school, students should be governed by common sense, good taste and dress appropriately for a high school setting in which different cultures and people coexist. For health and safety reasons, students must wear shoes while on campus.”
A continuation of the discussion arose on November 14th at Feminist Union’s meeting where students and faculty discussed a myriad of questions concerning CPS’ dress guidelines. One major question that came up was, “Does the administration have the inherent right to ‘draw the line’ on what is deemed ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’?” In an interview, Ms. Thomas gave her opinion on this question, “I do believe that grown-ups on campus can tell a student to alter their clothing. I don’t think that means we have to have a dress code. I think it’s just one of those things that people say, ‘I know it when I see it. I’m seeing too much,’ …I think it’s unfortunate and unfair… but I do think that.” Some students asked if the guidelines would be amended and if so, would students have any input on how they were changed. Another student suggested that a system be created so that any ‘inappropriate’ clothing could be addressed without shaming, humiliating, or offending a student. The meeting was well attended and accurately reflected the open and respectful qualities of the CPS community.
College Prep’s willingness and ability to tackle controversial topics like dress code reveal the strength and maturity of our community. Discussion is one of the most important and effective ways that issues can be solved. Voicing opinions, compromising, and simply listening can change perspectives, catalyze epiphanies, and raise critical questions. Keep talking, College Prep!