How a middle school student changed the dress code at her school and t

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of Fast Company Spark, a brand new initiative for center and highschool readers.

No tank tops, leggings, or shorts that may’t go the “fingertip rule,” with hems that aren’t longer than a scholar’s fingertips when their arms hold at their sides. These are they kinds of costume code guidelines present in 62% of center faculties and 56% of excessive faculties in line with the National Center for Education Statistics.  Once you begin studying the principles, and also you’ll see that almost all are geared toward lady’s garments and our bodies.

Many ladies are saying sufficient is sufficient. Kristen Wong is considered one of them. When she was a 12-year-old seventh grader at Lincoln Middle School in Alameda, Calif., she was verbally warned in regards to the outfit she was sporting—a pink tank prime, cardigan, and denims. While tank tops have been in opposition to the costume code, the cardigan lined her shoulders. Still, it wasn’t sufficient to cease her from being scolded and embarrassed.

Wong, who’s now a senior at Alameda High School, joined an effort to vary her college’s costume code. She shares her journey the place she not solely received the college to vary the coverage; she helped enact a district-wide costume code that handled all college students pretty. Wong’s profitable marketing campaign is a chief instance of how Gen Z is partaking in activism. She joins different social reformers like Greta Thunberg and her local weather change campaign and the Parkland, Fla. college students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who organized March for Our Lives to deal with college shootings.


Her interview has been edited for readability and house.

“Don’t wear that again or you’ll be penalized.”

I used to be strolling into the workplace to select up a kind, and one of many adults pointed at me and stated, “Hey, don’t wear that again or you’ll be penalized. Cover up the rest of the day.” I wasn’t formally costume coded, however that comment nearly felt worse. I used to be being advised that I wasn’t acceptable and left questioning, “What did I do wrong?” The solely factor I may consider is that she checked out my prime.

I used to be sporting a thick tank prime with a cardigan. It was fully modest. I used to be not developed on the time, so no cleavage was exhibiting. This was the primary time I used to be referred to as out. It didn’t really feel good in any respect and made me self-conscious all day. I talked to different ladies and discovered they’d been referred to as out or costume coded, too.

My college, Lincoln Middle School, had costume code guidelines like no ripped denims, no bra straps exhibiting, shorts needed to attain a sure size. Many of the insurance policies disproportionately affected female-identifying college students. My male friends would put on basketball shorts and even tank tops on a scorching day, they usually have been by no means costume coded. The issues have been principally with ladies being referred to as out on their tops.

“Does anybody want to join us to try to change things?”

A number of weeks later, Rebecca Baumgartner, my trainer and now my mentor, approached my management class and stated, “Hey, some of my students have been expressing frustrations in the dress code. Does anybody in leadership want to join us to try to change things?” I knew this was my second to share my story and get entangled. I had heard about others having experiences like mine. I additionally discovered it was usually older male, sis, white academics who have been costume coding college students. I used to be referred to as out by a lady, which felt scarier. She’s been a teen earlier than, she could also be a mother. It’s nearly like an additional backstab, and never ladies supporting ladies.

About 10 ladies and one boy joined Ms. Baumgartner. We would meet at lunch, after college, and on-line and do analysis and write new coverage. Ms. Baumgartner introduced in a couple of different academics. One went by the entire Old Navy web site and located that our costume code would solely enable about 30 objects to be worn. We requested individuals to share photos of the outfits they wore once they have been costume coded. Those submissions have been impactful. You may see individuals have been being referred to as out or costume coded for unserious issues.

We made a slideshow and offered it to the School Site Council assembly. No one often exhibits as much as these issues, however the health club was full of scholars, principally ladies however boys, too. We confirmed our analysis. We did a desegregation of knowledge in our college, evaluating how many individuals have been reported and what number of have been simply referred to as out, with a breakdown on grade stage and age.

“We had to be clear, specific, and concise.”

Ultimately, it was extra about presenting the ideology that it’s a sexist costume code. There have been tenured academics that weren’t joyful. We knew these academics, and we knew we needed to be clear, particular, and concise, presenting data the place they might vote “yes” to vary issues.

After that first assembly, we have been requested to come back again. We introduced in new coverage and options. We drafted among the language that we wished to vary. Obviously, when you have profanity in your shirt or impolite pictures, that is smart. But among the insurance policies didn’t. We stated, “Here’s exactly the language we want to change and why [what’s currently written is] problematic. Can  [this new language] be used for the next school year?”

They voted on it and it handed. Our costume code is printed within the college planner that they provide out yearly. We made positive the revisions have been modified.

Making bigger modifications

During our analysis we had discovered that every of the 17 college within the Alameda Unified School District may make their very own costume code, and every had completely different guidelines. Ms. Baumgartner requested if we wished to attempt to get a brand new costume code put in district large to make it equitable. Four of us stated, “yes.” We have been impressed by our first preliminary change at Lincoln Middle School.

We centered on writing coverage for secondary education, however the code would apply to elementary, too, with some language modifications for youthful college students. We met with the Chief Academic Officer, Steven Fong. He took on our plea to vary the costume code for the district and we created the Dress Code Task Force.

We had a number of conferences on the district. The indisputable fact that we had the chief tutorial officer on our aspect was nice as a result of he may make an agenda and provides us entry. He was a liaison between college students and our trainer versus the School Board of Alameda Unified.

Getting others concerned

We began inviting principals to take part and received a couple of mother and father to chime in. We labored onerous on coverage language. That took a very long time, because it ought to, and was the toughest half. Assuming the coverage is enacted in all college districts, the language can be utilized for or in opposition to you. It must be readable for college kids, in addition to empowering, optimistic, and reinforcing.

We seemed on the Oregon NOW (National Organization for Women) costume code coverage. That was the place we drew inspiration for sections that have been “cannot wear,” “may wear,” and “must wear.” Dress codes usually say what you’ll be able to’t put on. Students have been saying, “Can you give me some ideas of what I can wear?”

We modified each the coverage and administrative regulation, which is cohesive. We began presenting our concepts to focus and stakeholder teams, just like the PTA. We talked to principals at after-school conferences. It was a two-year course of, and it was not simple. Eventually, we made a presentation to implement a district-wide coverage to the college board, and it was accredited.

Learning to ask for assist and considering of wider influence

When the tales began to be written in newspapers and magazines and shared on social media, I used to be stunned on the feedback in the direction of me that stated I used to be selling ladies to sexualize their our bodies. It was the truth that college students who do select to put on which might be protected, and allowed, and they need to really feel assured with out being advised they’re disrupting the classroom.

When a conservative costume code is introduced up, usually the dialog pairs with the phrase “revealing clavicle, bare legs, and skin creates a distraction, and school is meant as a learning environment, which should be distraction-free.” Yes, it’s true within the working world, there are uniforms and different skilled costume codes. As a college, the main focus must be minimizing limitations to schooling and maximizing scholar success the place college students ought to really feel comfy, protected, and able to be taught in no matter they really feel most assured in. The costume code creates this ideology that girls should cowl up or else they’re seen as the issue, which institutionalizes sexism.

Through this course of, I discovered so much. For instance, when a youth asks an grownup for assist, it’s nearly assured that somebody will reply and be prepared. There is at all times an fairness piece in change and having a mentor is tremendous vital.

I discovered that college students have extra energy than suppose they do, and it’s vital to have various voices. We wished to ensure we have been talking for all college students, together with college students of LGBTQIA group, college students who’ve completely different background tales, and college students who might not have the ability to afford garments outlined by the outdated costume code. Ideology is an inclusive dialog and a dwelling dialog that must be reviewed yearly to replicate altering instances.

And I discovered you’re by no means too younger to start out. I used to be 14 years outdated after we approached the district and began altering all 17 college websites.

I used my expertise altering the costume code as considered one of my faculty essays. I hope to check human growth with an emphasis in fairness and variety. I wish to be concerned with ladies’s well being and schooling. I wish to enter the classroom after I’m older as a trainer. My costume code work actually made me suppose, “How are developing girls impacted? What access do they have to equity in health care and education?” I hope to reply these questions and proceed doing coverage work.

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