Art by Ella Benitone
For years, St. Mary’s has prided itself on the fact that it is the only girls’ school in Memphis that does not have a required uniform for students. In training, student ambassadors and tour guides were even taught to emphasize that “St. Mary’s allows each girl to express her individuality while also modeling and teaching good decision-making,” in the spirit of the school handbook. But as announced in the now-infamous email sent to St. Mary’s parents on Jan. 9, St. Mary’s students will now be required to purchase and wear uniforms beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
Some may view the student body’s backlash as a dramatic “first world” reaction. Yes, we’re fortunate to be able to think or care about something like what we get to wear to school, but that’s what we do at St. Mary’s — we think and care about it all.
Mr. Throckmorton said uniforms will ultimately benefit the entire school, students and faculty. In his chapel talk, he stated that the “decision will accomplish a combination of goals that include clear, consistent and enforceable expectations, unity and school spirit.”
But without question, uniforms will also homogenize the appearance of the student body. Having everyone dress uniformly will not help bring St. Mary’s students together. Our student body has been unified by the diversity of dress found in our halls and culture of respect for that display of individualism. Unity and uniformity are not one and the same.
Mr. Throckmorton was correct when he said that there are other “meaningful ways” St. Mary’s girls will continue to express ourselves, such as “academics, athletics, and art.” However, the choice to ignore choice of dress as a “meaningful” form of expression is to suppress that part of a student’s creativity and, for some, identity.
In our culture, like it or not, what people wear matters. We understand that the decision to require a uniform has everything to do with our administration recognizing that those outside of this school make judgments about who we are based on what they see. We regret that future St. Mary’s students will be denied the opportunity to present themselves authentically.
We believe there is significance for many in wearing our favorite pair of striped pants or bright pink sweater; we feel good, but most importantly, we feel like us. We believe there is significance in the choice, and then just as much significance in being together at school, having all made the choice differently. It is the choice that creates unity and teaches us to accept each individual.
We understand that the decision to institute uniforms is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of disorganized debate about the dress code and how to enforce it. A uniform may be the easiest way to end a battle it seems the administration is tired of fighting. But what guarantee do we have that a uniform is any more enforceable? When the dress-code infraction we hear the most is “Your uniform skirt is too short,” it seems counter-intuitive to the goal of eliminating those “awkward teacher conversations” to keep the skirt as a “compatible uniform option.”
The qualifier chosen for our mission wasn’t greatest or strongest; our school promised to “enable each student to reach her individual potential.” We’re not confused by the difference between individuality and individual potential. It’s simply contradictory to ignore the ways in which individuality is integral to this school’s ability to provide us a “superior education.”
Seventy-three percent of private school students in the United States wear uniforms, and St. Mary’s takes pride in being in the minority of schools without a required uniform. Not having a uniform makes a bold statement for a bold student body: this school wants us to be ourselves, accept ourselves, love ourselves and have confidence in ourselves. That is the St. Mary’s we know.
For & By Students
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