School dress codes have long been criticized for being sexist. But now, a new report from the National Women’s Law Center has found an even more alarming trend. According to the report, which looked at public high schools in Washington D.C., black girls are more harshly punished at school than white girls — and dress codes seem to be the major reason why.
The report found that teachers and administrators often rely on gender- and race-based stereotypes to cite girls for dress code violations. They commonly write up girls’ clothing choices for being “unladylike,” “inappropriate,” or worse, “distracting” to the boys around them. Schools then punish girls by forcing them to put on extra clothes, pulling them out of class, or sending them home.
For black girls, punishments are especially harsh: The report says they are 20.8 times more likely than white girls to be suspended, with racism and sexism at the core of those suspensions.
This isn’t just happening in D.C., either. According to a report by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, black students get expelled over three times more often than white students. Black girls, in particular, also get suspended at higher rates versus girls of any other ethnicity.
A 2012 report also found that black girls get punished more because they’re seen as “more aggressive and less feminine” than white students, and a 2017 University of Kentucky report also found that minor infractions, such as dress code violations, affect black girls more often than anyone else.
According to National Women’s Law Center, school dress codes tend to work against black girls in pretty bad ways. Nearly 70% of school dress codes in Washington, D.C. don’t allow “cultural items,” like head wraps and scarves, to be worn, unless it’s for religious purposes. Other parts of the country also ban hair extensions and certain hairstyles. Furthermore, students are typically banned from wearing outfits that are “too tight or revealing,” which isn’t necessarily fair for girls with curvier bodies.
As Sousa Middle School student and co-author of the study Samaria Short said, “The adults at this school say that if girls wear tight stuff, the boys think that it’s okay to touch them. I think everyone should keep their hands to themselves, no matter what anybody is wearing.”
We all know how problematic school dress codes can be. But this is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to receive a proper education regardless of who they are and where they came from. Stop trying to police girls’ clothing choices. Clearly, nothing good is coming from it.