By Evie Fowler
Jan. 9 is a day that will be remembered at St. Mary’s for years to come. It was the day Mr. Throckmorton emailed St. Mary’s parents to inform them of the new mandatory uniform policy. Since then, the school has sent a second email to parents and Throckmorton has given a chapel talk. However, St. Mary’s has continued to bustle with unanswered questions regarding this monumental decision. In light of this, I sat down with Throckmorton and Dr. Steakley to get clarification about many of these questions.
When asked “Why now?,” Throckmorton said, “The clothing industry has made it very hard for us to yearly keep up with articulating the difference between different kinds of pants and yoga pants and leggings and things like that … it’s just that if you keep doing the same thing, year after year, why do you think it’s going to change? … and for me, and ultimately this was my decision, I did not think that we were, with one more year, going to find a system to accomplish our goals.” He continued, “The tipping point for me was finally realizing how much time we’re wasting talking about this and trying to get it right, and then what the consequences of that is … ultimately, that I didn’t want this process to start all over again with a new head of the upper school.”
Many have expressed concern that such an important decision was dropped into a re-enrollment email. Regarding the announcement, he said, “I will say the reason I announced it with the re-enrollment, is I wanted to give people that choice instead of announcing it later in the year, and then people feeling like I tricked them. I don’t want to lose a single student, but it was important to me that we were honest in how we did the policy.”
There also have been questions about who exactly made the decision. Throckmorton also set the record straight that there was no vote from the Board of Trustees, only a discussion between them, because the board only votes on governance issues. When it came down to it, this decision was Throckmorton’s own. He said, “This is a school policy, so it is ultimately my responsibility ... and it was [with] overwhelming support [from administration and the board], but not everybody is on the same page with every nuance with that, and there were different people protecting different parts of ‘what makes St. Mary’s St. Mary’s.’”
Steakley weighed in on the topic of uniforms as well, saying, “It was not so much for me about the uniform but the ‘why?,’ and to make sure that the progress we have made and the work we are doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue, and that this is not a step back in that regard … What we want you to distinguish yourself in is your compassion, your desire to serve your community, your desire to take risks and be resilient, speak up, use your voice, and all those things we try to teach you to help you differentiate yourself.”
In response to concerns from students regarding the uniform policy stifling their individuality, Throckmorton said, “I will concede that a student for whom clothing is important and that is a major outlet of expression, that this is a restriction. I’m not pretending that that isn’t the case. I do not believe that this will change our mission at all … individuality is a great word, but St. Mary’s has never promised everyone, as the foremost thing, expression through clothing,” said Throckmorton.
Addressing the process of finding a uniform, he said, “We are going to have some leadership in the upper school tell us their opinion of what they think … have some girls try it on … Some people are specific about itchy fabric. We want to make sure that it accommodates all body types.”
Throckmorton and Steakley would also like for the students to know that there will be a pants option and there will not be a “uniform shoe.”
When asked if the school would profit from this decision, Throckmorton said, “This isn’t a profit making venture. Based off my knowledge of how one vendor works, and they are kind of the leading vendors, and they do some work in the city, it's done by mail with free shipping, and they're very attentive to the individual families. They deal directly with the individual families, so the school doesn’t have to get involved in your uniform choices. They also help the school out in making sure that if there are any hardships in affording the uniforms, the uniform company helps in that.” The only money that the school will make from clothes will be t-shirts or sweatshirts purchased through the Gobble Shop.
In conclusion, Throckmorton said, “Everybody has an opinion about clothing … I do not want that to be a divisive issue for the school any more than the people who do not like the current dress code … they have not made that a divisive issue for the school. What has been clear from people who have talked to me is that what we should all share is this understanding about what makes St. Mary’s special and makes it great for girls, and I prefer that we stay unified around that rather than being drawn into divisiveness about the uniform.”
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