By DAVID JOHNSON
ON FEBRUARY 23, Grade 12 student Karis Wilson was sent home from school on a dress code violation, having been told her outfit was not appropriate for school. She was wearing a knee length black dress on top of a white turtle neck. She posted a photo of the outfit and this was clearly a fully tailored dress with a lace neckline and hem.
In other words, the violation was because there was a lace finish on her dress, and the dress could have been defined as a slip … even if it wasn’t … but could have been. Soo … its about the lace.
Lace … is apparently against the SD73 dress code.
Within 24 hours social media circles were full of comments and support from parents of other students and community members at large, mostly people being upset over how the school, and the teacher handled the situation.
Many say … this was teacher initiated shaming.
The day before anti-bullying, pink shirt day.
Well … that was unfortunate timing.
On the other side of the coin, teachers are human, and they also make poor choices and mistakes and the general online consensus is that this is a situation where this teacher needs to be sat down and this poor choice corrected.
Her father Chris Wilson posted a Facebook video where he described the situation including his discussion with the school, where he asked a Vice Principle if she ‘felt uncomfortable’ with the outfit in question, and received a simple ‘no’ in response.
“I can’t even explain how disappointing it is that in 2021, for a teacher to centre a student out and say ‘what you’re wearing is making people feel uncomfortable’, and drag her down to the office. I heard this story and I was livid, she was sent home for wearing this beautiful dress and a turtleneck … because we know how inappropriate turtlenecks can be.”
Clearly tongue-in-cheek, but he makes the point.
Karis said it was not explained how her outfit detracted from the learning process, but was told the lace on the garment made it ‘look like a slip dress’.
“I wasn’t even aware of what a slip was, and that it was a type of lingerie, and that’s what it reminded the teacher of … but it’s not my fault that I remind you of something sexual. You shouldn’t be thinking about me in that manner.”
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, so I’m going to make a big deal out of it. If I can help anyone, I’d like to. I am kind of nervous to go back into class because I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” she said.
Obviously, this wasn’t a problem as Norkam students walked out in protest in support of their classmate.
Soo … that’s what happened on the day, SD#73 spokesperson Diana Skoglund response was. “The incident is currently under review. We will not comment on the incident specifically.”
Sure, it’ll take a day or two to action this one way or the other, and soon we will all know of some of the discussion and solution that will come out of it. Until then the online world will continue the flurry of condemnation directed towards all sides.
Let’s look at the real problem here.
The language as cut/pasted from the dress code; ‘clothing can not be a distraction to others in the learning environment’. That is the only direction in the SD#73 dress code that is applicable to this situation.
What does that actually mean?
The interpretation of this sentence is incredibly wide and the open-endedness of it directly negates any intent it may have originally attempted to satisfy, as it can be interpreted by anyone trying to apply it.
It’s a catch all that has clearly caught too much.
By definition, figuring out how to use it involves the cultural, moral viewpoint, values and personal life conditioning of the person trying to use it.
For some, a knee-high dress is appropriate and to another a moral failure.
That’s extreme, but the problem becomes clear. Obviously to this teacher, lace as a product itself, required this rule be enforced.
So what’s the fix?
A tweaking of the dress code?
Sensitivity training for some staff?
A ban on all lace?
I’ll suggest the most difficult idea; Even as our seemingly adult world can’t figure out certain questions of moral balance and ethics, we expect our school system to figure out how to operate in the middle of this battle ground. As a society, all we give our school system is inconsistent direction and topsy turvy ambiguity. It’s a mixed up dirty world, with opinions from one extreme to the other, and conflicts at every corner.
These days we definitely place a huge emphasis in the direction of cancel culture and ‘feeling uncomfortable’, and our Miss Wilson jumped headlong into this by layering a lace dress over a turtleneck.
But that’s not Miss Wilson’s fault or problem, it’s ours. We dropped on her a world that makes it very unclear if we will be ok with her fashion choices … but don’t worry … it will hit the news if some of us ‘feel uncomfortable’ with her morning decisions. That’s a tough world to be in.
And she unknowingly did it in a changing world that is slowly questioning the concepts of sexualization and objectification on the whole, and #metoo and female empowerment specifically. I say changing … as we are not there yet, this is one of those societal adaptation that will require a generational timeline to take full effect. Abject racism, antisemitism and same sex marriage took time to become a non issue. This will as well.
What can SD#73 do moving forward? The dress code needs … yet another … look at and needs to be culled of this ambiguousness. Yes, it will make it longer, but sometimes guidelines need to cut with darkish lines. It is inherently unfair for a student to fall afoul to one teacher’s view regarding dress … but not another’s and that’s exactly what a generalized rule like this does.
To be truly innovative, SD#73 could include a sentence recognising the history of female dress visa-vie the historic male dominated demand of enforced sexualization, and by taking a stand against uneven, unfair and gender-based inconsistencies.
Laying out this language in a short paragraph lays out a roadmap of guidance for all sides. In a sentence it could say in effect; ‘this is where society was, and we take the position that change is required, therefore it is incumbent on everyone to work in this direction.’
Today it’s a line of black lace; tomorrow it could be any dress.
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.