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New High School Dress Code Emphasizes Self-Expression Over Body-Shaming

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The dress code at Evanston Township High School in Illinois has gone from being beyond-strict (no tank tops!), to embracing personal expression and inclusion, in just one year. TODAY.com reports that the shift came as a result of one student's efforts to change the way school administrators viewed how kids dressed.

Marjie Erickson, now a freshman in college, was dismayed when the school enforced a no-shorts policy at the beginning of her senior year. So, instead of just complaining about the seemingly unnecessary rules for student attire, she did something, creating a survey that asked her peers how they felt when they incurred dress code violations. Erickson and school administrators would learn some groups of students felt they were targeted more often. Clearly, changes were in order! And changes did come.

Evanston Township High soon enforced a new kind of policy about how students should dress, but instead of banning certain clothing items, these rules were all about body-positivity and doing away with the distraction dress code enforcement can create.

The new policy states that it will not "reinforce stereotypes" 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/size."

Among the new rules:

  • All students should be able to dress comfortably without fear of being disciplined or body-shamed.
  • Students should be able to manage their own distractions while still being able to express themselves with how they dress.
  • Dress-code enforcement should not interfere with attendance or a focus on learning.
  • Students are encouraged to wear clothes that align with their self-identified gender.

Despite these exciting changes, the school's policy is not a free-for-all. Clothing that expresses discrimination or hate speech will not be tolerated; same goes for clothing that depicts drug use or illegal activity. Evanston Township High School District Superintendent Eric Witherspoon shared the following statement with Parents.com via email: "The biggest issue with our previous student dress code was that it could not be enforced equitably. Students were already wearing their personal styles to school, often with the prior approval of an adult at home. When you can’t enforce something with fidelity and through a lens of equity, what often happens is a type of dress code enforcement that is rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Like most dress codes in schools across the U.S., our code contained language that reinforced the gender binary and racial profiling, among other inequitable practices. The previous dress code and enforcement philosophy did not align with our equity goals and purpose, and it had to be changed. Finally, in an effort to enforce some aspects of the dress code, some adults were inadvertently body shaming some students, and we were determined to find a way to avoid possible shaming in the future."

Here's hoping what this school has done will inspire other schools to take on a similar attitude about student dress. After all, shouldn't administrators be spending more time celebrating kids' differences and freedom of expression, than handing out violations for tank tops?

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