Dress Code Investigation, Part 2 of 3

Part 2: A Case Study from Illinois

Authors: Eva t. and Shannon w.

31 january 2018

This is Part 2 of the Chronicle’s Dress Code series. Part 1 can be found here

To illustrate how the Shorecrest dress code might be fixed, The Chronicle sought out examples from other schools around the country. One was found in the Midwest.

Evanston Township High School (ETHS) is a well-respected public high school located in a suburb just outside of Chicago, Illinois. According to the Huffington Post (HuffPost), over one hundred female Evanston students voiced their concerns regarding their dress code at a conference called the Women’s Empowerment Conference, hosted by Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. The students claimed there was a disproportionate number of dress code violations issued to female students and many incidents of body shaming by faculty members, similar to what was found in the Chronicle’s survey.

 Evanston Township High School, known for its castle-like appearance, was at the center of a dress code controversy last year (Creative Commons photo found  here )
Evanston Township High School, known for its castle-like appearance, was at the center of a dress code controversy last year (Creative Commons photo found here )

These concerns got the attention of the administration, and in the beginning of the 2017 school year, ETHS implemented a new dress code model. The school adopted its model from Oregon’s National Organization of Women, known as the Oregon NOW model. It is a high school student dress code model written by the President and Vice President of Oregon NOW, Lisa Frack and Elleanor Chin, respectively.

With the adoption of this new dress code, it appears that ETHS has found a way to eliminate the “fear of or actual unnecessary discipline or body shaming,” as stated in the NOW model. It emphasizes that all students and staff members must “understand that they are responsible for managing their own personal ‘distractions’ without regulating individual students’ clothing or self expression.”

The Oregon NOW model contains a list of clothing items that students must wear, as well as a list of items students cannot wear, yet the lists are relatively short and do not “reinforce gender stereotypes.”

“Like most dress codes in schools across the U.S., our code contained language that reinforced the gender binary and racial profiling, among other inequitable practices,” stated Eric Witherspoon, Superintendent of Evanston Township High School, in an interview with Huffpost. “The previous dress code and enforcement philosophy did not align with our equity goals and purpose, and it had to be changed.”

The Chronicle contacted Mr. Keith Robinson, Associate Principal for Educational Services at ETHS, and asked him to comment on how the administration, teachers, students, and parents had reacted to the drastic change in their dress code guidelines this year.

“Initially, everyone wasn’t on board right away,” stated Mr. Robinson when asked about the administration’s reaction. “However, I think since school has begun and we’re looking at disciplinary infractions, there’s definitely been a downward trend. We’re seeing how students are more engaged and more happy. The climate has definitely changed for the better.”

“I think most teachers were very excited … some teachers were even relieved … being like ‘Hey, what you’re wearing is inappropriate’ is often a very uncomfortable discussion to have.”

When asked about how parents reacted, Mr. Robinson reflected for a moment, stating, “You know, I think we may have gotten two or three phone calls … but we’ve had so many parents who are proud of us and how we responded to the students’ concerns.”

 Students at Evanston voiced their concerns at a school board meeting (photo found  here ). 
Students at Evanston voiced their concerns at a school board meeting (photo found here ). 

Mr. Robinson commented on Shorecrest’s muumuu policy. “A big piece of our policy also talked about shaming. Making students wear those ridiculous clothing items is really just shaming them.”

Lastly, Mr. Robinson left the students of Shorecrest some advice.

“Use your voices. Organize. Speak with some trusted adults who can help guide you. Have this conversation with your school administrators and school board. They may consider a change.”

With many individuals unhappy with the current dress code guidelines, the Shorecrest Upper School administration has announced a dress code reform committee, which will begin meeting this semester.

What can Shorecrest learn from the experience of ETHS? What reforms can be put into place? That’s the subject of the third piece of this series, which will be released next week.