Stories about high school dress code policies have been causing us all to roll our eyes, shake our heads, and get our blood boiling. After all, as MTV's Laci Green reminds us, they're frequently sexist, they shame women's bodies, and they can interfere with their female students' educations. What's more, they're often arbitrary. What's "appropriate" on one body can be deemed "unacceptable" just as quickly, and in Cameron Boland's case, one dress may have affected her college application process and future leadership opportunities.
Cameron is a Florida teenager who just happens to be an academic all-star, passionate and driven to succeed. We were as shocked as she was to discover that she was stripped of her title of National Honor Society Historian for her county chapter by–you guessed it–wearing a dress with spaghetti straps to give her campaign's acceptance speech–not to mention at a neighboring high school at an extracurricular event in a state where the average temperatures are above eighty degrees.
We caught up with Cameron today–the busy teen has been sharing her story with everyone from Seventeen magazine to Fox News–and listened to her describe the uproar around the sundress, the frustrating powerlessness of being told to "get over it," and most importantly, why she believes this incident is sending powerfully negative messages to teenagers of all genders. At press time, Fort Myers High School has not returned our request for comment.
MTV: Hi, Cameron! So first of all, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Cameron Boland: Hi! My name is Cameron Boland. I’m seventeen, and I live in Fort Myers, Florida, and I go to Fort Myers High School. I am captain of the varsity girl’s softball team, and I’m currently president of the junior class at my high school. I’m in the fellowship of Christian athletes and the international baccalaureate program.
MTV: Those are amazing accomplishments at such a young age. How long have you been a member of the National Honor Society?
Cameron Boland: They induct you during your junior year, so only since January. The juniors send in their applications, and then there’s a waiting period to find out if you make it into your school’s chapter. We held our own chapter elections, where I was elected NHS Historian of my school. The officers then meet at the county chapter, which is when this whole thing started.
I was excited about it because the Historian handles a lot of the social media for the county chapter. It would involve the Facebook page, the website, writing to local newspapers to let them know what the club is doing for the community. I wanted to do it so that I could connect all of the schools in the area, connect my peers around the county, and improve the county for the better.
MTV: It sounds like a wonderful reason to take the job! Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like you’ll get to do that after all. Can you explain what happened?
Cameron Boland: Our speeches were scheduled during the day on May 1st. The other officers and I left our high school that morning to travel to Ida Baker, another high school in the county chapter where the district NHS meeting was being held. Another officer and I decided to dress a little nicer that day–we knew that this was the day we’d be giving our speeches, and we wanted to make a nice impression for the students we didn’t know. I was running unopposed, but other people were there to give campaign speeches for elections. I gave my speech, and after everyone had finished, there was about a 30-minute period where we all sat around waiting. The adult advisors from each chapters went to another room and talked with one another privately, which was weird as this is a student-voted, student-run organization. It’s in the bylaws: nowhere can the advisors step in to make decisions.
We were all wondering what was happening. They then called another girl and myself in, and told us that our positions had been revoked because our shoulders were exposed.
At the meeting, I actually put a jacket back on and approached the advisors. I said something like, “I’m sorry this is an issue, can I please cover my shoulders, apologize to the chapter, and re-do the speech?” They said no.
They also told us that we broke County NHS Bylaws, and I learned after I went home–thinking something was up with this–there are no bylaws in either the county or the National NHS guidelines that say anything about dress codes.
After I found out that there aren’t any National Honor Society dress code rules–they don’t even exist–they then tried to tell me that I broke the county school district’s Code of Conduct. There’s nowhere in there about dress codes regarding extracurricular activities. It also states that a dress code violation should result in a warning and a phone call to parents, which was not what happened. And there’s nothing in the NHS rules about revoking your position if you break a code of conduct.
I waited about three weeks to get some answers from our school board and from the district, and was pretty much told to “let it go.” My title is still revoked, although it’s supposedly still “under discussion.”
My mom and I went to the school board this past Tuesday, where we both stated the case along with some supporters, some of whom I didn’t even know. Two of the school board members said that they’d like this revisited, that they wanted to look into it, but one school board member told me that I was wrong and that there was another side of this story that I wasn’t telling–that I was lying and needed to stop using social media.
MTV: That all sounds really terrible, Cameron. I’m so sorry. How did all of this make you feel?
Cameron Boland: On that day, right after they told us, myself and the other girl this happened to, I think we were both a little in shock, and they were trying to hurry along another re-election at the same time, trying to throw other students into the position. After I had been denied the chance to give the speech again with my jacket on, I just started crying. One of the advisors from another school came up to me and said, “You need to stop crying. If this is the worst thing that’s happened to you in your life, consider yourself lucky.”
MTV: These dress code stories are unfortunately so commonplace right now. So many young women and men are fighting back these unfair policies, and we're only just now beginning to talk about it. Why did you choose to talk to the media about your story?
Cameron Boland: I think we need to share these stories to promote equality in gender and really, equality in general. This was a policy that was made-up, and it’s effectively telling me that my body is more important than my brain, which isn’t true for anybody. I think it’s important for people to stand up for themselves. Just because you are told something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question it. It doesn’t mean they’re always right. It’s important to stand up for yourself, for gender equality, to try and do what’s right.
MTV: Are there next steps for you?
Cameron Boland: We’re just waiting to hear what happens in the review. I’d love to get my position back. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to the people who voted for me. They had no right to take away their votes. And we’re living in the United States, where one of the most important things is that we do have the freedom to vote and our freedom of speech. If that can be taken away from us for no reason, what kind of message does that send those of us who are about to become citizens who can vote in this country?
MTV: You couldn’t be more right. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Cameron. We certainly hope that you get your position restored.