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How 2 high schoolers and a survey helped build the #PasstheSkirt movement

How 2 high schoolers and a survey helped build the #PasstheSkirt movement

(Photo courtesy of Laura Orsi: #passtheskirt)

At the end of January, high school senior Clara Mitchell, an honor student ranked third in her class, was scheduled to present at her school science symposium. She was excited—hoping to work her way up to salutatorian. Instead, she says she ended up having a panic attack, nearly missing her presentation, and crying in the school bathroom.

Why? She had received a dress code violation, over a skirt that one school administrator said was too short. She was told she may be suspended as this was her third dress code violation.

When Clara and her friend, Laura Orsi, dug into the incident, they began to suspect that their school’s dress code wasn’t enforced fairly and discriminated against women and people of color. They launched a series of experiments to test this hunch, including a SurveyMonkey survey, and set off a viral social movement that made national headlines.

The two high schoolers had their own personal feelings and experiences related to school dress codes were, but what about other students? Had they had bad experiences with school dress codes? Did they feel they were discriminatory? The survey results speak for themselves.

  • 96% of the 268 young women who responded considered the dress code unfair (79% of their male counterparts agreed)
  • More than 20% of the students had been cited 5 times or more
  • 87% of young women felt discriminated against by the dress code because of their gender
  • 79% of non-white students felt they’d been discriminated against by the dress code because of their race

Before they used SurveyMonkey to send their survey, the two high schoolers had taken a more a more hands-on approach to test whether Clara, who is Asian-American, was targeted because of her race. Laura, who is white and the same height as Clara, wore her friend’s skirt for a full day. Laura made an effort to draw attention to herself.  She took five unnecessary trips to the school office to seek out the employee who had cited Clara. Laura was never cited.

The girls then took their experiment to social media, encouraging other students to see whether dress code enforcement was different depending on who wore a specific garment. Students were asked to post results with the hashtag #PasstheSkirt.

The hashtag took off, and Laura decided to get more tangible data to emphasize her point. That’s when she decided to create a survey to prove that the school dress code rules were unfair.

“Without data, there is no proof,” Laura said. “The only proof would have come from word of mouth. With data, people can see the real issues of dress code and understand its widespread effect, not just the effect one specific dress code had on two girls.”

A full 321 of Laura and Clara’s classmates responded to the survey, describing their personal experiences with the dress code. The overwhelming majority of respondents considered the rules to be discriminatory and unfair—a belief that became more pronounced when she looked at specific demographics.

In the following weeks, Laura and Clara’s story started to get traction in the news, adding to the sometimes controversial national dialogue about dress codes.

Laura believes that gathering the voices and opinions of her fellow students is what helped her make a powerful case.

“After publishing our results, I’ve already seen a lot of changes in opinion. Changing policy will take time, but I believe it’s 100% possible. The key is to stay focused. I think a lot of Diversity and Inclusion initiatives pop up and then lose momentum. But if you stick to what you believe is right—and continue to fight for it—the slow, steady resistance will eventually lead to change.”