On the morning of Thursday the 29th, the girl students were brought together for a meeting to discuss dress code - in particular, the length of the skirts. The enforcement of a dress code is a basic responsibility of any faculty of a private school, and the meeting began on arguably routine, if not gratifying, terms. Towards its close, however, the discussion took a turn in light of comments regarding short skirt length as a distraction for the males of the school, evoking a strong response from the community. As one Sophomore girl put it, “It was good at first, but it all went downhill.”
The beginning of the “skirt talk” went better than most. The administration present, led by Dr. Shaffer, considered girls’ struggles in maintaining a proper skirt length, inviting the students to share their own ideas for solutions.
For most, however, skirt length was not the main issue of the meeting. It was the discretion of a vague “young man” who had expressed discomfort to the administration about the short length of the skirts around him, the mention of teachers’ concern over the issue, and the perspective that the short skirt length on some girls served as a notable distraction to the young men of the school.
The school-wide feedback refers to things like in-class discussions on the meeting that sometimes took the entire 90 minute period, the general talk among students and teachers that permeated the halls that morning onward, and, of course, the petition signed by roughly 50 students and submitted the following Friday asking for a formal apology for the statements for supposed sexualization of the topic. However, what the community had to say about it was by no means uniform.
One reason for this was the differing interpretation of the statements. The young male teachers at Kelly were highlighted in the comments, and to some it was unclear if one of these was the “young man” expressing his discomfort at girls’ short skirts; others took comment as referring to a student, with young male teachers thrown in as an unrelated aside; and still others felt it could have been a young male teacher expressing concern for his male students, and not himself personally. Each presents issues for many at Kelly. One teacher expressed her opinion - “...they should have just said ‘go by the rules.’ I don’t think they should have put the male students and teachers on the spot.”
This leads to yet another dissension, as some find the problem in that the males were looking at girl students in such a way, others in that someone had come to the administration about such a concern, others that the administration chose the concern as a responsibility of girls to fix, and others simply in that the comment was inappropriate to share with the student population. For many, it is a mix of these perspectives. Not everyone has identical interest in the event, either. When asked about the “talk,” answers ranged from, “ I say, ‘Please mind your own business; everyone should have the right to wear their own skirt.’” to “I’m just chilling - I don’t know.”
Regardless of discrepancies, most agree that the skirt length rule in itself is respectable and its enforcement reasonable. As one student put it, “If it had just been about the rules, it would have been fine.” Nevertheless, it did not end up being about the rules. To understand teachers’ and students’ vehement responses, one must consider the cultural roots.
In the United States over the past fifty years, women, supported by many men, have radically redefined our culture, shedding oppressive patriarchal social constructs. It is fair to say that disrespect and sexualization of women, especially viewed as something women were guilty of through their own conduct, are emotionally charged issues. In this respect, it is not surprising that any perceived infraction in the proper handling of gender topics would be met with some energy in a large group of young girls growing up in these changing times. They are trying to figure out what is okay, what is not, what equality means, and how to apply this to their surroundings. The “skirt talk” confronted a good number of these girls at Kelly with the question of how they were to respond as young women. One senior girl echoes this perspective, stating, “...the mindset has changed, and that was why there was such a response.” Whether or not the morning meeting called for a response is up for debate. It is obvious, at least, that it was not the aim of the administration to bring up such questions.
In response to the issue, the Kelly administration tried to let the energy dissipate and to explain that the meeting was supposed to be about the rules. It stayed rather silent about disent. Then, it held a similar and mostly uneventful meeting with the boys of the school the next morning. Lastly, Dr. Shaffer sent an email addressing the backlash, citing the dress code and explaining, with regard to the Friday petition, that the administration’s expression of concern over dress code infractions had been in effort to foster “an environment that is professional and conducive to academic achievement.”
Based on these statements, it is clear that the administration is eager to move past the uproar, understandably. It will be up to time to decide how quickly this will happen, though it looks as if the drama is swiftly fading away as angry energies are released. Whether or not the school’s response to the skirt talk was reasonable is a matter of personal opinion. Whether or not the administration will take greater care to avoid these sticky places is also a question on many students’ minds.
Hopefully, all involved - the uncomfortable, the outraged, the indifferent, and the admin - will be able to move forward together. Despite the differing approaches, one could find beauty in the passion that our whole community has shown in creating the best environment possible here at this school. May God smile on our sincere efforts - on all sides - to make sure the Kelly community is one of goodness.