On August 14, students returned to San Benito High School in Hollister, Calif., for the new school year.
But many female students in the approximately 3,000-member student body said they were met with a surprise when they found themselves being cited for dress code violations for wearing off-the-shoulder shirts — something that’s been technically banned by the school’s dress code policy for years, but that they claim was only enforced beginning Monday.
As a result, many students decided to protest the enforcement of the no-off-the-shoulder-shirt rule by wearing exactly that — including several male students wishing to express solidarity with their female peers.
“The dress code policy hasn’t been an issue the past two years I have been here,” one female student — who asked not to be named per her parents’ request — tells Yahoo Style by direct message on Twitter. The student, who is 16 and a junior, shares that last year, she would regularly wear off-the-shoulder shirts “and it was okay and it would be the same with a lot of the other girls.”
This year, however, things are different. The student says that on the first day of school, she walked into the administrative office and saw “50 girls and two boys in there” for dress code violations — including wearing off-the-shoulder shirts.
“Off-the-shoulder is a very big trend in the fashion industry right now,” she adds. “It’s not harming anyone physically….I think it is ridiculous how we have to fight against [the administration] to wear a shirt that is not harming anyone.”
The student notes that the “administration says that it is for our own safety, but I don’t understand what they are keeping us safe from. I really don’t think that there is someone dumb enough to pull down a shirt first of all — they have no right to touch me or anyone else at all. I mean, there is no point in that. They are focusing on the less important things here.”
She says she would prefer the administration focus their time and energy on offering more food carts in the cafeteria to reduce lines for lunch instead.
The SBHS student explains that the protest events started after girls who showed up for school pictures last week were told they could not have their picture taken while wearing off-the-shoulder styles.
“My guy friends think it’s ridiculous too,” she notes. “Like, they make fun of it.”
San Benito High School principal Adrian Ramirez tells Yahoo Style that the recent events regarding the off-the-shoulder shirts have offered some major teachable moments for the entire SBHS community.
“The students have been really good — really respectful and cooperative in terms of talking to us,” Ramirez says. “I’ve had 20 to 25 students who have come in to meet with me in small groups or individually and it’s been a good process in getting their insights in regards to some of the issues [regarding the dress code].”
Ramirez explains that the school dress code policy is outlined in the student handbook and also distributed to all parents each school year; some of the banned items include strapless shirts or tube tops. Ramirez says this includes off-the-shoulder shirts — and that this has long been a part of the dress code, though some students believe it is a recent addition.
“One thing I am finding out from the students is this summer, strapless shirts are one of the fashion trends that is more prevalent,” he notes. “So on the first day of school, there were a significantly greater number of students wearing this.”
He explains: “Students are saying that they were hearing that the reason [strapless and off-the-shoulder shirts] are not allowed is that it distracted the boys and that’s definitely not it at all. And they felt offended by that, and I completely agree that, if that was our stance, I would be offended too. Part of my job is to clarify the why behind the dress code. Whether you are a male or female student, it’s your own responsibility not to be distracted, regardless of your gender.”
Ramirez says that one of the positives to have come out of the recent protests is being able to engage with students about the issue.
“It’s been a really good process for me as principal to sit down and hear where issues arose,” he says. “We wouldn’t blame a female student at all. We would never blame a female student for another student being distracted by something they wore. The other thing is as a school, we should be looking back and looking at how consistently we address the dress code across campus, and that’s something else students have brought up.”
Ramirez adds that at next week’s faculty meeting, he intends to make a point of “educating faculty about the latest trends in clothing” to best ensure that the school has “a consistent message” when it comes to enforcing the dress code.
He also notes that he himself has seen “about three or four male students in the past few days who have worn a strapless blouse” to school and it’s his understanding “that it was their way of supporting the issue and some of the things being talked about” regarding the current dress code policy. Ramirez adds that his “approach is that male students need to be treated equitably with female students. A boy can wear a piece of clothing that can fall into the category of not being secured. Those are some of the discussion topics coming up with students in my office.”
Ramirez will meet with the Associated Student Body group on campus on August 17 to announce that he will assemble a committee of students “to start a conversation regarding dress code. I already have several students who are interested in being a part of it. The goal is to make sure they are heard and can express their opinions and concerns.”
He adds: “And for me as principal, the goal is to have a pulse on what’s happening and to be able to express the why. At the end of the day, if we disagree on something, I do want to hear — and I appreciate that you give the context and background on something to clarify what’s going around.”
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