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West Jordan students protest 'sexist' dress code with 'not an object' stickers

Published June 4, 2015 10:05 am

Manner in which code is enforced puts onus on female students, say demonstrators.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Jordan • A group of West Jordan High School students intentionally broke the school's dress code Wednesday to make a point about sexism.

They wore short shorts and tank tops adorned with stickers that read "not a distraction" and "not an object."

The stickers were an attempt to push back against how the students say school officials explain and enforce the dress code in a way that objectifies women and blames female students for the thoughts and actions of their male counterparts.



"I want more students to be aware of this messed-up thing," said Laurel Kelly, the 16-year-old sophomore who organized the demonstration.

Jordan School District has a standard policy for its schools that encourages modesty and prohibits short, revealing or cut-off clothing.

Kelly said she first was offended by a dress code presentation last fall, when one of the school's vice principals said that male students can't focus on schoolwork when female students are dressed inappropriately.

Kelly left the school for much of the year, she said, but later returned and was suspended last week after wearing T-shirts and putting up posters that were critical of the school's dress code.

"It wasn't anything disrespectful, but then they suspended me for two days," she said.

After her suspension, Kelly distributed roughly 400 handwritten stickers to her classmates, who started wearing them last Friday. On Wednesday, Kelly and several students wore clothes that violate the school's dress policy.

She said the primary issue is not the dress code itself, but the rhetoric surrounding the dress code that puts the onus of modesty and morality on female students.

"I don't want the dress code to be abolished completely," she said. "I would just rather have it be more about trying to create a professional environment."

Jordan School District has a unified dress code policy for its schools, which prohibits "clothes that are mutilated, cut off, or immodest, e.g., short shorts, mini skirts, bare midriffs, halter tops, spaghetti straps, tank shirts or similar clothing."

The dress code also calls for hair to be well-groomed and for students to avoid disruptive jewelry, accessories and piercings.

"We have a dress code in place, obviously, because we want students, when they're here, to focus on learning," district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said. "And the policy that we have is so that students aren't distracted."

West Jordan High School administrators are not the first to run into student opposition to their dress code enforcement.

Last September, about 80 students walked out of Bingham High School in protest after school administrators stopped a handful of girls going into a dance and offered scraps of fabric or sweaters to alter their dresses.

A year ago, Wasatch High School altered student yearbook photos to add necklines and cap sleeves and remove a collarbone tattoo.

And in 2012, Stansbury High School sent dozens of students home from the homecoming dance because their attire didn't meet the school's dress code. In the end, the school held another dance free of charge two weeks later.

Riesgraf acknowledged that dress code enforcement may vary between schools. But, she added, administrators are committed to being fair and avoiding gender bias.

"They make every effort to treat everyone the same when it comes to adhering to the dress code," she said.

Kaden Prows, a junior at West Jordan High School, said he saw between 30 and 40 students, both male and female, wearing the stickers Wednesday.

He said the school's dress code is "fine," and students who violate the policy can be disruptive.

"It's distracting because it's unprofessional and everyone notices it," he said.

Sophomore Moray Delsie said it was closer to one-third of the school's roughly 1,600 students who participated in the demonstration over the past week.

Delsie said she hopes the response from the student body will prompt school administrators to change the way the dress code is enforced.

"We were really trying to stop objectifying women and the sexist dress code," she said. "It wasn't disruptive at all. We were just wearing buttons. We weren't doing rallies."

bwood@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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