School’s dress code silences student expression

By Isabelle Cavazos, COLUMNIST
On March 27, 2014

 

Sometimes, recalling K-12 years might be extra cringe-worthy if one was subject to mostly arbitrary dress code rules, such as no distracting hair color or not rolling up the bottoms of long pants.

While these regulations are usually among the minor nuisances a student will deal with growing up, some schools are exercising their control over dress code and appearance to an extent that undermines personal choices
and individuality.

Such is the case with 9-year-old Kamryn Renfro from Colorado, who shaved her head to support a friend diagnosed with cancer. The USF Rugby Team recently did the same for teammate Marshall Weaver, a sophomore fighting cancer. However, instead of being praised for her support, Renfro was suspended. Though the school reversed its decision, it initially chose to abide by its dress code policy that deemed shaved
heads unacceptable.

Why shaved heads stray from “uniformity” or cause distraction, as the school administration stated, is a different matter. The more worrisome issue is the implications of a school telling children that how they appear to the school and other students is more important than expressing what they
believe in.

Though Renfro’s mother explained in a Facebook post that the school was supportive of her daughter’s choice, its advice for Renfro to wear a wig to school or wait for her hair to grow back before returning completely ignores her efforts to stand for a cause she cares about.

Not only would the school have hindered her daily educational process over her harmless decision, but it would have done so in a way typically associated with punishment — which equates her independent, conscious choice with doing something wrong.

Renfro is not the only young student to have recently faced intolerance from her school based on her appearance.

Another child, 9-year-old Grayson Bruce, was banned from taking his My Little Pony backpack to school because of the bullying he was previously receiving.

While this is more of a cop-out from handling bullying than an issue of dress code policy, the principal of the school ultimately chose how the student should express himself.

With both students’ situations, the schools should have been more open to fostering individuality.

It is unacceptable to trivialize students’ voices at such a young age in favor of what is easiest for the school to say or do, whether that means prioritizing guidelines instead of a student’s belief in a cause or targeting the victim of bullying rather than those
tormenting him.

Though students have likely argued that their individuality is trampled by school regulation since control on appearance and dress code began, these particular situations reveal how schools could discourage students from presenting themselves outside of social norms — something especially damaging if a student does not know why doing so is a problem.

This is not an issue relating to complaints against flip-flops or a protest in favor of leggings. This is about students being told at a young age that they should quiet their passions, whether they involve individual interests or the support for those close to them.

Isabelle Cavazos is a sophomore majoring in English.

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