Addressing the dress code: exposing the problems



The Freshman cut-out for Spirit Night before it was dress coded. (Douglas Sun)

Correction: In the printed version of this article, we used an erroneous quote from Patch Mission Viejo and also said that Dr. Astor had dress coded a cut-out on Spirit Night. The cut-out was dress coded, but not by Astor. Those errors have been fixed in this version. 

On her way to work during Office Hours, Yamini Nambimadom (Sr.) was dress coded by Ms. Amy Paulsen (Asst. Principal) and Dr. Kevin Astor (Principal). She was told that her stomach was “a little bit distracting” and that she had to go to the office to change into a different shirt.
Many other girls were waiting in line when she arrived. They were given big, black, unmistakable UHS shirts to change into.The shirts were almost reminiscent of the large red “A” Hester Prynne is forced to wear in The Scarlet Letter.
The school dress code in general is not problematic — it is understandable that not every piece of clothing is appropriate for every environment. It would be incorrect to say that people should be free to wear anything regardless of the environment they are in. The problems with the dress code lay in its wording and enforcement.
Currently, the dress code is vague and open to interpretation by teachers, administrators and students. It uses unhelpful words like “distracting” and “revealing” to describe clothes that should not be worn, including “halter tops exposing front or back” or “clothing exposing midriff, upper torso, etc.” Students can discern from the examples that halter tops are not appropriate, but what about other shirts exposing the front or back? Are those also inappropriate?
The second clothing example says that “clothing exposing…upper torso” cannot be worn. The upper torso is such a wide area that there are a number of interpretations one could derive from the dress code’s phrasing. Realistically, students cannot be expected to dress within its parameters if they are unclear. Students are not dressing for teachers or administrators — they are dressing for school.
Furthermore, teachers and administrators have been dress coding students unprofessionally. They reportedly shamed students for what they wore, made personal attacks on students and justified the dress code based on the actions of a few male students. This type of enforcement sends a mixed message: administrators are attempting to maintain students’ professional appearance by behaving unprofessionally.
For example, Nambimadom was made to go change her clothes because her clothes might have been “distracting” to a boy. In the time it took to walk to the office, wait in the long line of girls for a shirt and change, she could have been doing her schoolwork as planned. Instead, what she was wearing was given more consideration than her role as a student.
Even if Nambimadom’s outfit — a crop top and high-waisted shorts — had been a real distraction to a boy, the administrator’s first action should have been to discipline the boy. Girls are human beings, not zoo animals or circus exhibits to be ogled at, regardless of what they are wearing. By immediately telling the girl to “cover up,” the blame is being put on her shoulders instead of his. This attitude reinforces the false societal notion that a girl deserves what she gets for wearing anything remotely revealing.
According to Patch Mission Viejo and Patch San Juan Capistrano, about 40 girls were banned from the February Winter Formal at Astor’s formal school, Capistrano Valley High (CVH), based on their clothing. Parents of girls complained, but the parents of two boys thanked the principal.
After the Winter Formal at CVH, parents and students were brought in to aid in revising dress code guidelines.
Astor acknowledged that the administration could clarify the language of the UHS dress code through removing the word “distracting” and describing more effectively how certain clothes are distracting to the wearer. Furthermore, Astor said that changes that could be made to the dress code to address the issue of the UHS administration sending the wrong message.
He agreed that girls should not be policed because of certain boys’ behavior and vice versa.
Astor explained that he has strictly enforced the dress code because “it’s confusing to have an expectation and not enforce it.”
Astor compared the enforcement of the dress code to arriving on time to class: “We should be doing something if [students are] not arriving on time…if we have that expectation we either enforce it or get rid of it.”
However, the dress code has also been applied to things that do not disrupt the overall uniformity of the school.
It is understandable that someone would be dress coded if they were to wear a bikini to school, but the morning after Spirit Night, a face-in-hole cutout of a girl wearing a bikini was subjected to the stringent dress code. The cutout was not a picture of a person, but a drawing that would have been up for no more than two days.
The Freshman cut-out from Spirit Night after it was dress coded. (Douglas Sun)

Dress coding a piece of cardboard communicates that the enforcement of the dress code is no longer about maintaining an educational environment or expectations. It is instead about pushing a personal idea of modesty onto students.
Lately, the dress code has been a popular topic of conversation, but only among students. In order to resolve the problems around the dress code, we need to have a discussion that students, teachers and administrators can be a part of.
This discussion is impossible unless both students and administration are willing to participate. It has been established that it is unprofessional for administrators to make personal attacks on students because of the dress code. In the same vein, it is just as unprofessional for students to make personal attacks on specific administrators for the exact same reason. While administration needs to be held accountable for their actions, holding the mistakes made in the enforcement of the dress code against administration is unproductive. By shaming administration regardless of the changes they are planning on making, students are sending their own mixed message: administration might as well not make any changes at all if it will not make any change in students’ outlook. Targeting members of administration is not asking for change; in fact, it discourages it.
At CVH, Astor held a meeting to clarify the dress code with the girls involved in the Winter Formal incident, the Parent Teacher Student Association, student government representatives and school administrators.
According to Astor, the girls and their parents were brought in, given an idea of how administration would like the dress code to be and asked to help choose the correct language to fit the dress guidelines. A similar collaborative meeting can and should be held at UHS.
Yet, while ASB may be able to propose changes to the dress code in response to student complaints, only the administration is capable of implementing said changes.