Jordan Yates wasn’t planning to be the spokesperson.
“Brett just asked, ‘Would anybody like to re-write the dress code based on what we all agree on?’ I raised my hand. That’s how I wound up being the person in all these news articles -- it almost feels like an accident.”
Jordan’s an eighteen-year old senior at Natrona County High School in Wyoming. She’s smart, enthusiastic, and passionate -- qualities that led her to start a petition on Change.org after a recent proposal passed by her school board made her and her friends cry foul. Although school hasn’t started yet, a new dress code policy left students in Natrona County shaking their heads and examining their wardrobes, prompting outcry from students and parents, and the creation of a Facebook group with over 2,400 members protesting the new requirements.
With 2,400 voices in the conversation, fighting this policy can sometimes become disorganized and overwhelming. Fortunately, Jordan’s not doing this alone. She’s had the support of friends and teachers, as well as students she didn’t even know before all of this started -- leaders from rival high school Kelly Walsh have banded together, via Facebook, and met one another in-person for face-to-face strategy meetings in order to present their case to the school board this past Monday.
Jordan put on a nice outfit. She attended the meeting, with copies of her revised dress code at the ready. She took careful notes, and waited patiently. Sixteen people spoke, only one in support of the existing dress code.
Some cited sexism in their arguments, arguing that a specific line in the new policy stating that “shoulders must be covered,” is sexist and unfair. Others pointed to more specific factors: the district’s unreliable air-conditioning is a solid point in favor of tank tops, new policies place a financial burden on families to purchase new clothing, and if athletes can wear Spandex and cheerleading skirts, why can’t students?
“The current dress code bans shirts that don’t cover the tops of shoulders, any form of a tank top. We proposed straps that hit 1 inch -- which we thought was a pretty good compromise,” Jordan said. “First of all, there’s no data to show that dress codes improve education. Imposing a stricter dress code won’t improve our education. As speech and debate students, we wear shirts that don’t cover our shoulders all the way, which is totally professional and acceptable for debate, but somehow not appropriate for school yet jean shorts and T-shirts are OK? [The dress code is] not written to promote professionalism, it’s just there to enforce someone’s twisted idea of modesty.”
Facebook group creator Tricity Marie Guerra cited the 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which ruled in favor of students’ right to self-expression during the black armband protests of the Vietnam War. Some students talked about wanting to explore civil disobedience, showing up en masse to the first day of school in outfits that explicitly violate the dress code policy.
Could that work? Jordan’s not sure.
“I know a number of students are still planning a big protest,” she hesitates. “I really don’t know. I’ll be entirely honest. We want to be taken seriously by the administration. I feel like if a protest is done well, it can be a real wake-up call to people in charge that this is an issue that needs to be addressed...but I worry that it won’t be done well. I don’t want to get in trouble, sure, but I also don’t want to lose the trust or respect of the board or the administration.”
The board commended the students on their efforts, and applauded their passion. But as of the end of that meeting, there was no motion to continue the conversation. The dress code stands as it is.
Jordan’s not deterred. It’s not over till it’s over.
“I had a feeling that nothing would come of the first board meeting, and I really don’t think that this will be the end of it. There’s so much momentum behind this, so many students who aren’t willing to give up so quickly. And neither am I. There’s another board meeting in September, and I’m planning to attend. I really don’t think this is the end," Jordan explained. "And I agree with [Assistant Principal Christopher Dresang] -- he said he was really proud that his students got their points across in a public forum in a way that didn’t resort to yelling, and I do think it’s so important to go through the process. It was really scary -- I didn’t know what to expect, I had never been to a board meeting before -- but it was really reassuring, to go into a room and really have our voices heard. Even though I’m a senior, and this won’t affect me for very long -- someone had to say something, and I’m really proud of this group of students for taking a stand.”
If you're thinking of protesting your own school's dress code policies, check out some information here.