By AJ Jeon ’14
Two weeks ago as I came back to Groton for my fourth year now, the Circle felt somewhat different from what I remember from my Second Form year. Brand new copper plates glistened on the roof of the school buildings, the backyard behind the schoolhouse in between the science lounge and the music wing was filled with sand, and many underformers and faculty members whom I did not recognize were moving in. The school has become so different from the all boys school it used to be 128 years ago. The school not only became co-ed but it also opened up its gate for many students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Recently, the school has attempted at stepping up another level of technology as it embraced the new online bookstore and the school wide debit card system. One thing does not seem to change over time, though, and that is—although the student body has sputtering debates on it every year—the dress code.
“The language in the guide has not changed in several years,” says Mr. O’Donnell, the new dean of the school. The dress code is a sensitive matter as it sets the classroom atmosphere, reflects the Groton standards, and defines the color of community as a whole. Therefore, it is very natural that we are expected to to pay attention to our dress and abide by the expectations set both inside and outside of the school. However, although the current dress code is mostly reasonable, the biggest reason that the student body feels uncomfortable with the dress code is because the enforcement of the rule has become stricter than ever. The dress code now seems to be more concerned about sticking to the old traditions and cracking down on the students rather than about the decency of the outfit as a whole. Ironically, everything about the school has changed but that small segment of Guide to Groton.
“We are in a school, not at the beach or in the gym,” states the school manual. Agreed. Revealing or provocative dress could be very much distracting and discomfit some people. After all, this is a special place with a mingle of people from very different backgrounds so we should all appreciate different opinions and standards. Shoes must be worn in all buildings—we could also pass this for safety reasons. Baseball hats — also reasonable because some people may consider them disrespectful.
However, as the booklet continues to talk about the banned items such as athletic gear and jeans, it becomes questionable. Black jeans and other color jeans can look as decent as any other pants. In fact, fitted tailored jeans often look much more decent than dress pants (and I know that many girls would support this statement because I have heard this multiple times already. Not only do my peers consistently bring this up, but I also remember a senior girl saying this during her chapel talk a couple of years ago, and I’ve seen multiple CV articles on the same matter in the past issues). Also, rarely any stores make baggy pants for girls or anything “cute” that is not made of denim.
There are also a wider variety of fabrics for clothes these days. It is not that hard to walk into any regular clothing stores and find a pair of pants that look like jeans but are not actually jeans or vice versa. Today during school, as my classmate passed by the faculty lounge wearing fitted black pants with a nice top, a faculty member questioned her whether they were jeans. For the record, they were not, but my point is, is there a fine line of distinction between “jeans” and “acceptable” pants? Are jeans or any of the jean-looking pants really that disrespectful? They are neither revealing nor provocative—banning colored jeans does not do anything to back the dynamics of the school better.
During the interview, Mr. O’Donnell said, “I realize that some students may feel that a focus on consistent enforcement of the dress code is tantamount to a change in the dress code… [but] those are requests that members of the faculty have made of students in the past.” Although the written dress code has remained pretty much the same over time, students who have been here for a while now agree that the enforcement was quite lax in the past. Although some faculty members were against certain attires and sent students back to the dorm to get changed, I do not remember ever having to go through the procedure myself. I would also think that after a week or so in, most of the students will know which faculty members punish more harshly on dress code violations. It suggests that students respect their teachers and therefore when they know that certain apparel could offend a faculty member, they try to avoid wearing such clothing.
That being said, banning sweatshirts is quite harsh. Sweatshirts by no means are offensive. They are not revealing, nor are they harmful to anyone. Moreover, as it quickly gets cold towards the end of the fall term, many of the students here depend on the layers. However, if we are not allowed to wear sweatshirts anymore, what are the students to do? Should everyone who often used to wear sweatshirts go shopping this instant and spend lots of money on new clothes? An anonymous fifth form student stated, “I don’t know what I’m going to do if they actually ban sweatshirts at school. All of my jackets except for one are sweatshirts and I really do not want to wear the same jacket this whole winter.”
It is true that the Guide to Groton has not been changed for a long time and any other written rules for the school’s dress code have not changed that much either. It is also agreed that the school traditions should be appreciated by all who go here. However, the dress code definitely is being enforced a lot more strictly compared to last year. Although the dress code did exist before, not many faculty members had actually enforced it . The rules have been narrowed down a lot more. For example, the aforementioned sweatshirt rules and leggings rules for girls have changed. Although trying to uphold the school expectations is great, simply forcing the students to abandon what they are used to wearing by means of strict rules and demerits for dress code violations may be just a little bit too harsh of an enforcement.