Laura Orsi, a senior at Parkview Arts/Science Magnet High School in Little Rock, Ark., received a text from her friend Clara Mitchell earlier this week asking for help. Mitchell was having a panic attack in their school’s front office after being dress-coded for her skirt. The incident inspired Orsi to fight back.
“She had worn it to school before, and was sporting it again for the Science Symposium,” Orsi wrote on her website passtheskirt.com, about her friend’s outfit. “However, at 10 a.m., she was dress coded for it being ‘too short’ by school administration, who repeatedly made her turn around to ‘look at the back.'”
The unnamed members of the administration accused Mitchell of faking her panic attack and threatened her with suspension, because it was her third offense in two years — something Orsi says is not in their school policy.
“She lives half an hour away from school and both her parents work full time jobs, so I immediately texted my dad a few items of clothing of mine to bring to her, which he did,” Orsi explains to Yahoo Lifestyle. “It didn’t seem right, though, since she had a trench coat she could have put on and buttoned up to cover her legs, but they wouldn’t let her for some reason that they neglected to explain.”
Orsi felt all of this was unfair to her friend, who ranks third in their class and is taking six AP courses this year. She also suspected Mitchell was targeted because she’s Asian, and to prove it, Orsi wore the same skirt the next day.
“I made it through the whole day, made FIVE unnecessary trips by the front office in order to be seen by all administration, and no one ever said anything,” wrote Orsi, who is nearly the same height as Mitchell. “I was even alone in the hall with one of the people who gave Clara the violation, purposefully drew attention to myself, and still didn’t get coded.”
Like students across the country, Orsi and her classmates believe that the girls in her school are targeted for dress code violations more than the boys, and that students of color receive the most disciplinary actions for their attire. That’s why, with the help of her father, Jay Orsi, she built a website on Thursday. On Pass the Skirt, as well as on the Pass the Skirt Instagram and Twitter pages, she encourages other students in the Little Rock School District (LRSD) to wear skirts and shorts that are shorter than the dress code’s four-inch-above-the-knee limit, and then to pass on those items of clothing to another student of a different race or gender. She asks them to post photos with the hashtag #PassTheSkirt, to take her online survey, and to share their stories.
“Once I took the original problem to social media, it blew up like I never expected,” Orsi tells Yahoo. “I started getting messages from students from all around Little Rock School District, then Arkansas, and now the whole nation. I did something thinking it would just make a little splash that will ultimately be lost in the noise. I had fun and felt proud making that splash. But then, the dam broke, and now I’m flooded with information and people contacting me to help more.”
Orsi’s original goal was to gather enough evidence to get LRSD to change its dress code to something more fair. On her site, she posts what she believes to be a model dress code, which is one that was proposed by the Oregon National Organization of Women and has been adopted by districts across the country. That code dictates (among other things) that certain body parts should be covered, profanity should be avoided, and that “students should be able to dress comfortably for school without fear of or actual unnecessary discipline or body shaming.”
Orsi plans to give her school administration the data from the survey she created, which asks students about how often they’ve been dress-coded and whether they feel like they’ve been discriminated against because of their race or body type. She worries though that she will face an uphill battle.
“I think it would take a lot of angry people, boys, girls, others, as well as people of different races and body types, to raise their voices loud and proud and get their friends involved,” Orsi says. “I want people to shout so loud that the state can’t tune us out.”
At the same time, Orsi doesn’t want fellow #PassTheSkirt participants to get in trouble or miss out on their education for this cause. She encourages everyone to be respectful when they’re dress-coded and to bring a back-up outfit to school in case they’re told to change. She also added that if people don’t feel comfortable exposing their legs, they can write “PTS” on their hands to show their support.
Already, people have been sharing photos and stories, some of which Orsi published to her site so, as she says, we’re broadening the perspective beyond that of a “petite white girl from Arkansas.” Though she’s juggling school and preparing to audition for the Arkansas All State Choir next week, Orsi is determined to continue this work too.
“I’m here thinking, ‘How did I get here? How did I fall into this? I have other things I need to be doing, but a lot of people are looking to me to do something to help them,'” Orsi tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And now helping them is exactly what I plan to do.”
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