By Ryan Cyrus, High School Senior • IDRA Newsletter • September 2022 •
As the current school year approached, many students were concerned about the impact of dress codes on their school life. Dress codes have been and always will be a concern for many students, more specifically for female students. Looking at the actions and reactions of many administrators and teachers, female students are disproportionately affected by dress codes in our schools.
We, as students, are told that dress codes are in place to protect us and our well-being when, in reality, they limit our freedom of expression while also protecting the teachers who may be subjective in deciding which student’s attire to check. This unnecessarily invasive policing of female students’ attire has the potential to create extreme destruction of female students’ confidence in their bodies, personality and style (Zhou, 2015).
Taking another look at the actions of those with authority, they fail to treat the male students with the same rigor and hypersensitivity that they do with female students. Many male students in school dress much more inappropriately compared to their female counterparts with attire that is much more revealing and completely disregarded.
As a result of extremely disproportionate levels of dress code discipline within schools, the environments created for our students are not safe mentally or emotionally.
Although there are many examples of unfair treatment among male, female and gender nonconforming students, recently there has been a lot of student activism in search of better alternatives for dress codes. There have been many instances where students of color have been mistreated and harassed based on their appearance specifically regarding their hair. For many Black individuals, our hair is an extremely big part of our identity. We use our hair as a form of self expression, and many draw confidence from our hair. Knowing that we can go to school and have teachers cut our hair or get us removed from the learning environment with no discussion or consequences is very disheartening.
While the dress code, as far as clothing is concerned, promotes body image issues, especially with our female students, as well as continuing sexism within the school system, it also allows for the continued discrimination of our Black and Latino students and their hair. Statistically speaking, there have been many cases where Black and Latino students received much more harsh treatment and disciplinary action compared to their white counterparts, which makes school a lot harder for them. In one example, Black girls were suspended for dress code “violations” approximately 21 times more than that of white students (Hartnett, 2022).
Actions like this continue to teach our students of color that their natural appearance is not good enough, or pretty enough or beautiful, leading to increased mental health issues related to their appearance.
As a result of these extremely disproportionate levels of dress code discipline within schools, the environments created for our students are not safe mentally or emotionally. As teachers and administrators, you must create a space where your students feel comfortable and are not treated where their natural appearance is wrong, dirty or unclean. There must be a change, and it needs to be soon.
Hartnett, H. (January 11, 2022). School Dress Codes Perpetuate Sexism, Racism, and Transphobia. Planned Parenthood.
Latham Sikes, C. (February 2020). Racial and Gender Disparities in Dress Code Discipline Point to Need for New Approaches in Schools. IDRA Newsletter.
Zhou, L. (October 20, 2015). The Sexism of School Dress Codes. The Atlantic.
A high school senior, Ryan Cyrus is a member of IDRA’s 2022 Youth Advisory Board from McKinney, Texas.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]