Girls Inc. DC girls research and detect racial and gender stereotypes in school dress codes

Girls Inc. DC girls partnered up with the National Women’s Law Center to explore an issue that is plaguing schools across the county, even in DC. In their recent study labeled “Dress Coded: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. schools,” the girls dissect why students are feeling racial and gender stereotypes in everyday dress codes.

So what did they find? Here, we will highlight the main points of the NWLC’s findings.

  1. The rules are way too strict

When we say strict, we mean that 81 percent of schools require a uniform. In some schools, shorts and skirts must be worn no more than two inches above the knee. For schools with uniforms, clothes are not allowed to have patterns, lace, polka dots, stripes or holes.

  1. The rules perpetuate gender stereotypes

To start, many schools have different dress codes for girls than they do for boys. This instantly makes it more difficult for young girls to express themselves or dress in the way they feel most comfortable. Although DCPS prohibits sex specific rules, many high schools across the district still have requirements based on gender. Pages 12-13 of “Dress Coded” shows several rules given to only boys or girls.

  1. The rules also perpetuate racial stereotypes

Nasirah Fair, a Girls Inc DC senior at School Without Walls says that at Wilson High School, her sister is told that she shouldn’t wear head wraps. In fact, 68 percent of DC public high schools that actually publish their dress codes online say they ban hair wraps or head scarves. However, traditionally Black hairstyles and head coverings are a part of cultural and religious beliefs.

  1. Dress code rules are not supportive of those with financial limitations

Uniforms in schools limit families with financial restrictions. Phina Walker says she pays around $100 just for shirts each year. For families trying to save up for college or just pay to get by each month, these financial costs make getting by even harder.

Nasirah puts it best when she says “Schools should teach girls how to love their bodies. Vice versa. Boys how to love their bodies. And how to respect each other because you should feel confident.”

We are so proud of our girls for their leadership and advocacy work with the NWLC to research dress code policies in DC. We only touched on a portion of their research. Want to learn more about the impact of dress codes on Black girls and the recommendations girls have to solve the dress code problem? You can view their research here: DRESS CODED: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools.

As a result of their advocacy and action, there is increased interest in and awareness of the issue and its impact on girls.

And remember, never underestimate your power! You have the power to make a change and to do good.

View photos from our meeting with the National Women’s Law Center here.

One of our seniors, Samantha O’Sullivan wrote a follow up for this article, which was published in Teen Vogue. You can view the article here:

The Washington Post thought this story was large enough to share, and interviewed three of our Girls Inc. members. You can read our girls’ insight here:

On top of being featured in Teen Vogue and The Washington Post, a group of girls met with DC councilmembers Mary Cheh and David Grosso to discuss this reoccurring problem. Here is a photo from their meeting.