High School Student Sparks Debate After Protesting School's 'Sexist' Dress Code

A viral TikTok has sparked an online debate on whether or not public school dress codes are necessary or just archaic.

Evita Frick-Hisaw, 16, also known as @baggyjeanmom on TikTok, posted her now-viral video showing live clips from a dress code protest she and her peers staged last week. According to a saved Instagram story post on her public account, she and her peers held the demonstration on June 3 at Natomas Charter School's Performing and Fine Arts Academy in Sacramento, California.

"In protest of the dress code assembly regarding 'too much [midriff],' we are all wearing crop tops," the poster read. "Boys! Support your friends and crop your tops!!"

"Our body our choice, it isn't our fault they're distracted. They can't take away our confidence and self-expression," Frick-Hisaw wrote in a text box on the post.

Newsweek spoke to Frick-Hisaw, who claimed that the protest was held after hearing about administrators' plans to host a discussion on student clothing.

"[The school principal] was going to have an assembly on dress code so in response we wore crop tops to protest," Frick-Hisaw confirmed. "It was a day-long process, we showed up in crop tops and they started dress coding people."

@baggyjeanmom

we started this all because our principal was going to have an assembly abt dress code so day of the assembly we did this. (There was a reason)

♬ original sound - Sickickmusic

The video begins with Frick-Hisaw and her peers showing off their outfits, which all included crop tops revealing their stomachs. The video then cuts to a clip in which she now dons an oversized brown shirt, claiming to have been "dress coded before school even started." In the next clip, she changes into a red spaghetti strap top.

In text overlay on the video, Frick-Hisaw claims that she and dozens of other students against the school's current dress code engage in a peaceful "walkout," in which they sit on the ground in a socially distant circle on campus.

Several young women in attendance also arrive with body art and words written across their stomachs, including phrases like "Am I distracting?", "Skinny Pass?" and "Distraction." It appears to be a comment on administrative reasoning for not allowing crop tops in class.

The video ends with the protesters "taken into the theater for a 'talk,'" noting that "now we are having a real talk to change the dress code." However, Frick-Hisaw notes that "unfortunately, people are getting kicked out" for their participation in the protest.

Frick-Hisaw confirmed with Newsweek that the discussion in the school theater was a starting point "so we could see what we could do about the situation."

She also included photos of protesters in and around the school throughout the day, as well as signs found on campus in the video. One poster demanded, "Teach boys to focus, not girls to cover up." "If [children's] midriffs distract you, you should not be working with children," another read.

Frick-Hisaw also noted in her statement to Newsweek that the protest resulted in a school meeting the next day with the intent of "hopefully [changing] the dress code next year."

However, according to the Natomas Charter School's Executive Director Joe Wood, the video was not an accurate representation of the school's dress code conversation.

"There's definitely been a lot of misinformation out there. There was no assembly scheduled for that day," he told Newsweek. "Since students came back to campus, our focus has been on their emotional wellbeing.

"However, we noticed that some students began coming to class in slippers, crop tops and sports bras, so our plan was to have a 2-5 minute conversation with the school over Zoom, as we cannot have in-person assemblies due to COVID regulations," he explained. "That conversation was basically telling students, 'Don't forget the dress code that's been here for three years, and as you shop for the summer, purchase things in alignment with the dress code.'"

Wood also confirmed that "since [the protest], we've been meeting with students to get a sense of what actually happened. We had a town hall...to hear their concerns about the dress code and meeting with individual students."

Regardless, the video has since been viewed over 3.1 million times and liked by nearly one million viewers. Many in the comments vocalized their support for the student demonstration.

"I am LIVING for this...I wish I had the idea to do this back when I was in school," one commenter wrote. "They can hold an assembly to tell girls how to dress but they can't have an assembly to educate boys on how they should respect other [people's] bodies," another added.

One student in attendance praised those brave enough to take a part in the protest. "Let's go, everyone. So proud of everyone especially the younger grades. Most of the [seniors] were told they couldn't walk [at] graduation if they participated," they claimed. "Multiple staff [members] have tried [to] take away posters and flyers that we are not placing on campus, just handing them [out] for people to hold."

Others commented on how dress codes work at their school, arguing that they are "archaic" and "sexist."

"Whenever teachers used to try to dress code me, I would ask them why they were even staring at my body to begin with. And they would get nervous," one person recalled. "We actually had a [transgender] girl get dress coded at our school because boys shouldn't wear dresses," another claimed.

Wood also told Newsweek that, despite concerns of students and viewers on TikTok, the school's three-year-old dress code is among the more progressive policies in America. According to the school's student handbook, "Clothing must cover areas from one armpit across to the other armpit, down to approximately three to four inches inseam length on the upper thighs...[and] tops must have shoulder straps."

"Part of this is, I think, being cooped up because of the pandemic. It seemed like they were more protesting other schools' dress codes, not ours, and the largely sexual and racial [tone] they can have," Wood said. "Our dress code's primary concern is that they come to school with appropriate clothing on their body. The kids are more frustrated about wanting to be able to wear crop tops or sports bras."

@baggyjeanmom

Reply to @emilemily19 ,thank you for all the support I’m glad that we are finally being heard wether it’s by our school or not.

♬ original sound - Evita frick-Hisaw

Not everyone agreed with Frick-Hisaw and her peers. Some felt their response to the situation was "childish," and argued in favor of mandated dress codes.

"These little kids are gonna have a really hard time getting a job in the future if they can't understand the basics of dress code," one critic wrote.

Frick-Hisaw made a video responding to that comment and provided more context to the initial video.

"So the reason why we did all this is because we were gonna have an assembly on dress code, and we felt the dress code was sexist towards women and also perpetuating rape culture," she said. "That made us very uncomfortable."

"We all just want some freedom of expression and freedom to express our confidence, whether that's in a baggy t-shirt or in a tiny little tank top," she added. "We as students feel like what we wear is not distracting towards others or affecting anyone's learning environment."

She also addressed the comment's note about dress codes in the workforce. "We know we're gonna have a dress code when we get older and possibly have uniforms with whatever job that comes, but right now we're in school and we're in a learning environment," she said.

"We should not have to be kicked out of class just because we're wearing a crop top," Frick-Hisaw concluded.

The comments on her follow-up video remained highly supportive. "Don't listen to people like that! They used to say that colored hair & tattoos were unprofessional. That's clearly not the case anymore!" one wrote. "Got dress coded all the time in school. Just letting you know you CAN still get a job & be successful! Keep using your voice it's inspiring," another commented.

Frick-Hisaw told Newsweek that she was blown away by the support she received, and had no idea the video would reach as many people as it did.

"I didn't expect it to have three million views [per se] but I wasn't completely shocked, [overall] I'm very very grateful for it," she said. "I really appreciate the support but I don't mind the hate comments because there's always gunna be those kinds of people."

She also told Newsweek that in her ideal world, there is little to no dress code enforcement. "Honestly if it were me [in charge] I wouldn't be harsh on dress code, I'm a big advocate for self-expression and confidence so if you like it it's not a problem for me."

In light of the incident, Wood told Newsweek that there would be no disciplinary action taken against any participants, but there will be some "verbiage changes" to the "gender-neutral" dress code, which currently "discourages body shaming and focuses on addressing norms and expectations of school attire."

"We do have students that are not comfortable with big dress code changes," he noted. "The district of Natomas is one of the most diverse racially, religiously and linguistically, and our school as a performing arts school has a large LGBTQ+ population.

"We previously has language that used the word 'disruption,' and students were uncomfortable with that...we are largely planning on having it stay the same, we just need to reconnect on reinforcement," he added. "Staff, parents and students need to understand what it says and why it says it."

Students spark viral dress code debate
Students a California charter school have gone viral for their protest against the campus dress code. Much like the Hungarian protesters pictured, they took the chance to express themselves with "scandalous" clothing and body art. STR/AFP/Getty Images

This is the latest in a host of instances across the world in which dress codes and fashion norms have been challenged in schools. In May, two teachers in Spain wore skirts to class every day in solidarity with a student bullied for his own fashion choices. Another school in London faced intense backlash after they threatened student protesters with expulsion over disagreements on their "discriminatory" dress code, which allegedly targeted Black and Muslim students.

This story was updated with comment from Natomas Charter School's Executive Director Joe Wood.