Shoulders are in; is shaming out?
Imagine being a teenage girl sitting in a sweltering hot classroom, wearing a tank top, and being asked to put on a jacket because your bare shoulders might distract your male classmates from learning.
This has been, and in some places remains, a reality for many young girls, and many believe such requests “body shame” them.
But after a thought-provoking commencement speech this year by Santa Fe High salutatorian Ramona Park, in which she argued that the dress code body shamed young women and prioritized the education of male students, the district implemented a new dress code for the 2018-19 school year.
Gone in the new dress code: bans on tank tops, bans on matching color schemes and bandanas formerly considered gang-related dress, as well as other restrictive policies.
The new policy attempts to minimize disparities between genders while creating a reasonable policy for the city’s high school students and administrators with a “focus on behavior rather than clothing,” Superintendent Veronica García told the school board in June.
According to Santa Fe Public Schools’ website, “clothes must be worn in a way such that genitals, buttocks, breasts and navel are fully covered with fabric that is not able to be seen through.” Additionally, high school students must wear an ID.
The new rules give high school teachers and administrators the flexibility to decide if any one student’s dress is inappropriate or constitutes a distraction from the learning process.
So how have the changes played out? One semester into the new dress code, students and teachers at the district’s two public high schools have differing opinions on whether the new policies have changed anything.
Some students agree with Park that the former dress code was subjective, especially toward girls.
“I’ve been called out for my outfits a lot of times, especially last year, while I see other people breaking dress code … much worse and no one says anything,” said Brianna Ortega, a junior at Santa Fe High School. “If my parents let me leave the house like this, my teachers shouldn’t get to tell me I shouldn’t be wearing it. … It feels unfair.”
This year, some students feel a new sense of equality.
“This year’s dress code has been way better for the girls, because from what I’ve seen in class, they aren’t getting picked on by teachers for what they wear, like last year,” said Santa Fe High School junior Isaiah Velazquez.
He added, however, that he doesn’t feel like boys have ever been policed as much as girls in terms of the dress code, either this year or last year.
“The new dress code changes haven’t had much impact on us [boys]. I never really paid any attention to it at all,” Velazquez said. “We really could always wear whatever we want and it isn’t much of a problem.”
At Capital High School, some students don’t think much has changed for boys or girls.
“I have seen guys wear tank tops with, like, the sleeves cut off,” Capital student Alex Loya said. “But when girls wear spaghetti straps, they usually get called out.”
For some high school students, the biggest change this year was the requirement they wear ID on campus.
“They [the administration] definitely got more strict with ID,” said Capital student Deren Ganona.
Some students at Santa Fe High School, though, say ID enforcement there is not strictly enforced.
“I feel like they don’t really care about IDs as much anymore,” said student Ariana Lovato. “They made a big deal about it the first quarter, but I barely wear mine anymore, and I haven’t been called out yet.”
Whether or how the dress code changes are affecting academics remains to be seen, but some educators have noticed some changes under the new policy.
Paul Finucan, an English teacher at Santa Fe High School, said he doesn’t think much is different under the new rules, but he is seeing fewer infractions.
“I think that while it’s a minority, the biggest dress code problem that I’m aware of is when girls dress inappropriately,” Finucan said. “I see much less of it happening this year. I don’t think the new dress code is gender biased at all.”
Mariah Runyan, the principal at Capital High School, said the new dress code is a far cry from 20 years ago, when students in younger grades could only wear khakis and collared shirts.
She thinks the changes she’s seen over the years, from khakis to jeans, polos to T-shirts and now tank tops, have been positive changes for students, and the new rules, in particular, have been a positive change for teachers, too.
“The minor changes for high school, such as sleeveless shirts/tanks being allowed, have made our jobs easier,” she said, “Because I am not policing whether a shoulder is shown and can instead focus on instruction.”
Editor’s note: Ramona Park, the 2018 salutatorian at Santa Fe High School, is a former staff reporter for Generation Next.
Lincoln Byrd is a sophomore at Santa Fe High School, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Natalia Payne is a sophomore at Santa Fe High School, contact her at email@example.com. Elizabeth Walker is a senior at Capital High school, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.