Tired of being humiliated, these girls fought the school dress code. And won.

Four middle-schoolers sat at the podium. Poised. Confident. Ready to challenge the Portland Public Schools board on its dress code.

Four students from Portland, Oregon, testified in front of the board in May 2015. Image via PPS Communications/YouTube.

AnaLuiza, a seventh-grader, told a story of a friend who was pulled aside one day for wearing a skirt deemed to be too short. The friend sat in the principal's office for hours while the staff tried to get ahold of her parents. She missed important classwork, and worse yet, felt humiliated by the ordeal.


"The only reason I go to school is to get my education," AnaLuiza told the board. "When I get dressed in the morning, my intention is not to provoke or be sexualized. My intention is to feel comfortable in my own skin."

Sophia, also in seventh grade at the time, spoke last. "My problem with the dress code is that 100% of the students that get sent home are female. ... In a way, you're telling [a girl] that boys are more entitled to their education than she is. And I don't think that's acceptable."

They were absolutely right. Because if you're a preteen or teenage girl in America, you can get a dress code violation for almost anything: showing your midriff, shoulder, collarbone, leg, bra strap, or, in some cases, for just wearing something as harmless as spaghetti straps.

Stephanie Hughes of Kentucky was cited for a dress code violation for this outfit, which sometimes shows her collarbone. Photo by Stacie Dunn, used with permission.

Girls who violate their schools' dress codes are accused of being distractions and are often humiliated in front of their classmates.

They're then either sent home to change (missing valuable class time) or forced to cover up with "shame clothes," like old sweatpants that have been lying around the guidance counselor's office for who knows how long.

This has been a problem for years, and a particularly frustrating one to solve. Almost everyone agrees schools need some kind of dress code, but almost no one can agree on what that should look like.

Deanna Wolf of Alabama says her 15-year-old daughter missed an entire class period simply for wearing leggings and a loose-fitting shirt. Photos by Deanna Wolf, used with permission.

But now, thanks to these brave Portland students and a couple of key community members, we might finally be making some progress.

The school board, to the surprise of many, agreed the dress code needed fixing. But that didn't mean it would be easy.

A committee was formed, including Sophia (one of the girls who testified in front of the board), parents, teachers, and other community leaders. Lisa Frack, president of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization of Women, and a parent, was one of them.

Frack said some issues were easy to fix, like the ban on spaghetti straps. That was quick to go. Others? Not so much.

There was plenty of back-and-forth. Are short shorts OK? How about cleavage? What about all of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) policies that unfairly target students of color?

Marian Wilson-Reed of Texas says her 9-year-old daughter was pulled out of class because school administrators thought her natural hairstyle looked like a mohawk, which was against the rules. Photo by Marian Wilson-Reed, used with permission.

Then there was the issue of enforcement. Although hopefully, with the new dress code, there would be fewer violations, the committee wanted to find ways to eliminate shaming and missed class time for students who broke the rules.

Despite debate on some of these specific issues, Frack said, the conversation always came back to the same basic point.

Some board members "felt like they wanted a little line in there reminding everyone that this is a learning institution. But that's exactly what we're trying to get away from," Frack said. "We don't want to link clothing and learning. ... You can't learn math better or worse whether you have a tie on or a collared shirt or a tank top."

"We're going to basically have people covering what you have to do to not be naked."

The final approved dress code, one of only a few like it in the U.S., was a major improvement. But perhaps just as important was the conversation sparked by the process.

Gone was phrasing that specifically targeted bare midriffs, "plunging necklines," or "sexually suggestive clothing." The new, gender-neutral code essentially asks that students wear a top and a bottom (or a dress), and that their clothes not show profanity or reference drugs.

It's pretty simple. But the conversations that led to this point were anything but.

"It raised the issue of people's discomfort with how girls are objectified in this country. Is it a solution to tell them to cover up?" Frack said. She even recalled some of the adult members of the advisory committee having trouble talking about things like breasts and sexuality with a straight face — which, she said, is part of the problem.

For now, though, Frack just hopes this code can serve as a model to other districts looking to get with the times. Portland just rolled out the new policy in the fall of 2016, so it remains to be seen how it'll fare — especially when the weather gets hot again.

But so far, Frack said, all she's heard from parents is how happy their kids are to be free to be themselves without judgment.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
True

This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

Keep Reading Show less

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."