Dress codes in schools have been gaining more attention in recent years as social media has made it easier for stories to make it to the attention of others. Most of those featured in the stories are young girls who are being told that what they’re wearing is wrong.
Earlier this year, an eight grade student in Westchester County, New York named Samantha Wilson was sent to the principle’s office for a bagged sweater that was deemed “inappropriate”. Her family is now fighting to change the school’s dress code.
The “inappropriate” clothing in question was a loose-fitting, long-sleeved sweater that she’d worn multiple times before without a problem. However, this time a teacher reported Samantha for violating the school’s dress code.
“I was told it was a distraction to the boys, and that my midriff and bra strap were visible,” Samantha spoke to the New York Post.
Samantha says that the sweater does sometimes fall off her shoulder, as baggy sweaters will occasionally do that. It also shows her belly button when she raises a hand in class.
But Samantha and her parents, as well as 17-year-old sister Cydney, believe that if a sweater like hers violates the dress code, then the code needs changing.
Her sister Cydney even went on Change.org to start a petition, and it has nearly 900 signatures.
“The objectification of our students in the middle school is absolutely horrifying,” she posted to the petition.
Dress code controversies seem to be everywhere these days. Not too long ago there was a mom who created a stir at the University of Notre Dame by saying female college students shouldn’t wear leggings because they’re too “revealing”. Before that, there was a high school in Arkansas that came under fire when a student of color got in trouble for wearing a skirt that was reportedly “too short” according to the dress code, but then when her white friend wore the same exact skirt, school staff didn’t say anything.
Those were just two examples of the many other stories out there. But at the moment, it’s 13-year-old Samantha Wilson who’s been penalized for wearing a sweater.
“It’s basically just like every other sweater. I’ve worn it to auditions before, because I thought it looked nice,” Samantha said to the New York Post.
The sweater was what she wore for her yearbook photo. She’s never had an issue before. Unfortunately this time, she was lectured in the principal’s office for her “inappropriate” outfit for nearly 30 minutes.
“I was told it was a distraction to the boys, and that my midriff and bra strap were visible,” Samantha said.
After getting in trouble, Samantha covered up with a coat for the rest of the day, but was visibly upset in her next class.
“I walked into my next class trying not to cry. But I lost it and I burst into tears,” she said. “When the teacher asked why I was crying, my friend said I was dress-coded. The teacher said, ‘She deserves to be.’ He said that in front of my entire class.”
Samantha’s parents were frustrated by the incident, as was her sister, Cydney, who once even borrowed the top for a college interview.
Cydney, who started a petition, wrote, “The objectification of our students in the middle school is absolutely horrifying. What are we trying to teach our young students at their most vulnerable time? We NEED to do better than this.”
There have been many people who’ve reacted to the story showing their agreement with the family, though there have been some that think the rules are correct.
“While she was technically breaking a rule, it is a rule that can and should be changed, as it is time for us to stop telling young women they need to cover up their bodies,” Cydney wrote.
She is hopeful that the school district will take change of the dress code into consideration, as “nobody’s belly button is inappropriate.”
“She is an innocent 13 year old girl who wore an outfit she felt good about,” Cydney’s mom Jamie added to the petition. “She didn’t think about it slipping from her shoulder at times or her belly button when she raised her hand. But now she does. She was humiliated at school — pulled from science to discuss. So disappointed in my school for objectifying young girls.”
The school’s dress code explicitly prohibits “extremely brief garments,” which the sweater in question apparently qualifies as.
Kristopher Harrison, Superintendent for the Irvington Union Free School District, responded to the incident by releasing the following statement:
“The fact is, we always want to improve our service to our students. If there is concern that the Code, in its present form, is inconsistent with the spirit of our school community, we want to know and we want to help. Further, we value our students’ voice and thinking especially in decisions that impact them so personally. School dress codes are never easy and we know that fashion sometimes conflicts — still, we want to get it right and we will be working with our students and stakeholders to do just that.”
It still unclear whether or not the petition will help facilitate change at the school, but it remains one more example of how young people are shaking up outdated school policies. At one school back in 2017, male students launched a protest of their school’s dress code by wearing off-the-shoulder tops to demonstrate the double standard. As one boy explained in an interview with Teen Vogue, “Women deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and this entails being able to dress as one pleases. Women should be able to wear what they want without being systemically objectified.”
Hopefully we’ll get there one day soon as a society. Until then, we’ll just be having more incidents like this happen.