In Conversation

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Controversy over girls being turned away from a homecoming dance this fall for short dresses has prompted a revision of the student dress code at Eastern High School. The school’s principal apologized for the incident and this month the school changed its dress code. Panelists on WFPL’s In Conversation talked about dress codes, and said some codes target girls and impede their learning. 

Our guests were:

  • Courier Journal Education Reporter Olivia Krauth
  • University of Louisville Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Chair Dawn Heinecken
  • Democratic State Representative Attica Scott
Democratic State Representative Attica Scott (top center), University of Louisville Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Chair Dawn Heinecken (left of center), In Conversation Host Rick Howlett (left) and Courier Journal Education Reporter Olivia Krauth (right)Kyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

Democratic State Representative Attica Scott (top center), University of Louisville Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Chair Dawn Heinecken (left of center), In Conversation Host Rick Howlett (left) and Courier Journal Education Reporter Olivia Krauth (right)

Courier Journal Education Reporter Olivia Krauth’s reporting found that girls receive more violations in schools that don’t require uniforms. Krauth said those rules can be applied more subjectively, and sometimes students are suspended for violating dress codes.

“Generally it’s just a little bit of time out of class for somebody to bring them new clothes or to talk with a school administrator, nothing super serious,” Krauth said. “Then roughly a quarter or so end in some kind of detention, and eventually it does escalate to an in-school suspension.”

Dawn Heinecken, chair of the University of Louisville Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies department, said dress code punishments can negatively affect students’ mental health.

“That kind of sexual objectification and that kind of shaming, particularly as adolescent girls are maturing, can really be internalized in very damaging ways,” Heinecken said. “It can really make them feel uncomfortable about their body and feel shame about it … so this kind of shaming is only going to contribute to very serious mental health issues that young women often face.”

Democratic State Representative Attica Scott said schools could better address problem dress codes by involving students. Scott is sponsoring a bill that would ban discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle. It comes more than three years after parents and students said Butler Traditional High School’s dress code was racist. The policy, which banned dreadlocks, twists, braids and cornrows, was lifted.

“We have adults who are very disconnected and far removed from the classroom who are trying to make decisions on behalf of our kids,” Scott said. “We should really have policies that speak to recognizing that the way that someone dresses or the way that they wear their hair doesn’t have anything to do with their ability to learn and to be productive people who give back to our communities.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as we look back on some of our favorite episodes from 2019.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.