Let me paint you a picture. You're walking about your school on the Friday before the big Homecoming dance, and you're yet to check the rules as you expect nothing new. You see the posters with the rules in passing between your 5th and 6th period, but you can never see the rule listed in the middle of the flier. As you travel about school throughout the day, you see more and more flyers, but all of them have the centermost rule scrawled over in black ink. You finally examine it closely. Next to the scribbled out rule is “SEXIST” in large letters, and underneath you can barely make out a sentence: “Male students will be pat down.”
This is how many students at Eagle Rock Junior Senior High School were informed of the rules they had to follow in order to attend this year’s homecoming dance. On November 5th of 2021, the rules were announced just a day before the event. The first noticeable rules were the extra regulations being placed due to COVID-19 along with new restrictions regarding drugs and alcohol, but one final demand piqued the interest of Eagle Rock students. The only students who would be pat down to search for drugs, alcohol, weapons, or other contraband would be male students. When questioned about this decision to include such a measure within the homecoming attendance requirements, Olivia Alatorre, a vice president of the associated student body (ASB) had this to say about ASB’s responsibility over these rules: “ASB did not have any say in these rules, and these were mentioned to us very shortly before the dance.”
This decision faced a lot of pushback by Eagle Rock students. The move was seen as discriminatory, and left students with anxieties and grievances regarding the homecoming dance. It left one question: Why only men? Is the Eagle Rock High School Administration of the opinion that young men are the likely perpetrators of drug and alcohol related activities? We might never know, but a lot of questions were asked regarding the rules. How would security officers gauge who is male and who is female? What happens to non-binary students? Some students raised the question: Why do it at all? Disgruntled students expressed various opinions online: “The pat downs?? Why are we borderline groping kids before letting them into a school dance??” “Some of them are unnecessary and the male pat down is not only sexist but not COVID friendly.” “Yeah, it’s sexist. I’m sorry admin is doing this.”
That wasn’t the only issue with the event rules; the school had also opted to ban prescription drugs, depriving students of inhalers, anti-allergy medication, birth control, seizure medication, SSRIs, heart disease medication, and other potentially lifesaving and otherwise essential drugs. At what point does the safety of students get sacrificed for the sake of security theater? If they truly cared about security, they would pat down all students instead of synthesizing an illusion of safety. Eagle Rock High School is littered with posters that preach about equality and how “Diversity is our strength,” and “We accept everyone at our school,” yet our school does not hesitate to roll out measures that discriminate against male students. If our school were to stay true to our stated character, we would treat all of our students equally, regardless of gender.
This student pushback was not sourced from debaucherous desires to do drugs on a football field, but from the desire to have a night of high school festivities that isn’t soured by the pretense of discrimination. So what happened that night?
The measure was rescinded. This did not happen because of student advocacy, but due to parental complaints. Arriving at the homecoming dance, it was clear that nobody was being pat down, only bag checks and pocket searches were put into place. There was a sigh of relief, but there were still issues. Like most school dances, the bag checking process was heavily gendered, with only two bag check stations, one for men, one for women—which excludes non-binary students.
There is a lesson to be learned in this scenario. When you hold students to different rules based on arbitrary standards, an administration can unintentionally exclude people. Whether or not this is well-intentioned is beside the point; it still has an impact on students. One look at an average ERHS student’s instagram account on the night before the dance yields post after post listing grievances with the restrictions. To say that these measures are harmless is an understatement, because they cause an uproar among students and condemn the most vulnerable of our student body to unjust treatment.
The Dress Code Needs to be Updated
Speaking of subjecting students to unjust treatment, there is an aspect of our school’s rules that are terribly outdated; the dreaded dress code. School dress codes have been a hot topic , and many California highschoolers have taken to protesting their schools' own dress code.
Now, Eagle Rock obviously has its own dress code, and while it’s rarely enforced, many new students take it upon themselves to read the dress code to insure that they don’t get in trouble on the first day. After rumors of an enforcement tore through Eagle Rock Campus before winter break, many were shocked to see how dysfunctional and outdated it was.
The dress code lists off infractions based on exposed skin, belts (?) with drug paraphernalia and imagery on it, and hats unless they are “approved by school administration." The dress code also bans scarves, large shorts, and “short shorts." Interestingly, the short shorts rule only applies to women, and the long shorts rule only applies to men. This dress code is clearly antiquated and seems to be influenced by 90s gang culture references and restrictions, hence the banning of bandana, scarves, and hats. The dress code is in desperate need of a shiny new coat of paint. Our understanding of gender has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, even the last two years have been revolutionary in terms of gender philosophy, so it is perfectly understandable that our school might have an outdated dress code, but that doesn't detract from the harm it causes to those whose genders are not in line with traditional gender archetypes.
There are still issues that extend past our dress code’s geriatrics. Bare midriffs, short shorts, and cleavage are all banned underneath our dress code. This seems reasonable at first, but anything past a superficial examination of why we have these rules leaves one to ponder their capriciousness. Why punish people for having large breasts? It’s a part of their body, and denying certain people the ability to do something based on a biological trait they cannot control is just as bad as exclusively patting down male students.
Reasonable onlookers can sympathize with our new principal, Mr. Steinorth as he struggles to acclimate with many things, including updating our dress code. Rumors from before the break were frankly unfair, and caused friction between students and administrators, which is the last thing Eagle Rock High School needs right now as we fight the throes of a pandemic.
Thankfully, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced a universal guideline for dress code. The approved motion’s PDF was posted by Principal Steinorth on December 8, 2021 to Schoology.
The proposal was adopted by the LAUSD board with no opposition, and lists conditions necessary for future dress codes. “The District specifies that all dress codes be gender-neutral, which means that students may not be restricted from wearing attire that is traditionally associated with another gender…” While this does not resolve the central issue of dress codes divided by gender, the motion was dedicated to including people of color and those who identify under atypical or divergent gender identities. It’s nowhere near perfect. For example, the use of the term “womxn” in an attempt to be inclusive to trans and non-binary people, being a prime example, as the term has a deep connection to TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) ideology and forces non-binary people into a femininely aligned binary.
To be straightforward, when you give different people different rules, someone will face discrimination. We are in a new era, where the elimination of the gendered structures in our school’s rules and regulations has become an absolute necessity. This is especially true when one can consider the massive influx of trans and non-binary identifying students like myself. When these restrictions fail the students of Eagle Rock, we are the first to be harmed or disenfranchised over them. This isn’t intentional, but people can still be hurt despite intention.
Ending the conversation
This conversation ends simply; as a school, we need to include students in all conversations about dress codes. We need to not only update the dress code on our website, and quickly dedicate ourselves to preventing discrimination through its enforcement. Nobody should be limited by the dress code more than anyone else because of something they cannot control. The best way to approach equality is by leveling the playing field in the simplest way possible and removing the gendered fence that keeps us in the previous century. If we are going to establish a fair dress code, we must do it correctly. Banning cleavage, tube tops, and bare midriffs will do nothing but anger students, especially female ones. Put it this way: what will take away more from someone’s education? A girl wearing a crop top, or a school wide conflict that results in an animosity against our school administration?
There is good and bad news. Bad news, we have a dress code that might as well have been written during the Ice Age. Good news, the district, administrators, and even our own principal are open to reviewing the dress code with fresh eyes and good intentions. As students, it is our job to be vigilant, and secure our rights to self expression and autonomy. Administrators are tasked with including students in that conversation with transparency and dedication. Nothing less should be expected from either of us. So, don’t panic, you’re not going to be kicked off campus for your scarves and long shorts.