A group of Baltimore students are protesting school uniforms at their school this week, spurring conversations about oppression of people of color.
Students are calling the protest Formation Week — a named taken from the title of Beyonce’s new hit single — and calling the school’s expectations around head scarves and wraps, which don’t apply to practicing Muslim students, “forced assimilation” that “ignores the rich culture and history of black hair.”
The students, organizing within the group City Bloc, are protesting school uniforms at their school as well as fostering conversations about structural inequality and cultural expression at Baltimore City College, a selective public college-preparatory school.
— City Bloc (@bccbloc) March 22, 2016
City Bloc has organized for sit-ins and protests before and took part in protests reacting to the death of Freddie Gray. They have also used social media to bring attention to inequities in quality of education. Earlier this year, they tweeted out photos of students wearing winter coats, hats and scarves inside their cold classrooms, stoking outrage online. Three hours after some of the first photos were tweeted, Baltimore Public Schools announced the schools, Baltimore City College and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elementary/Middle School, would close that day.
The students first participated in “MindWrap Monday” and wore headwraps and scarves, which were banned for any students who weren’t practicing Muslims. On “Traditional Tuesday,” students wore Dashikis, Muumuus, Polleras, Kimonos, and Saris. On “Women Work Wednesday,” students plan to discuss female historical figures and women who have influenced their lives. “Thoughtful Thursday” is centered on ensuring that allies step aside from conversations about oppression of people of color and listen to people of color and “Formation Friday” is about allowing students to be “unapologetically themselves.” City Bloc is also planning to host an open mic forum that day.
— City Bloc (@bccbloc) March 22, 2016
In a letter to the administration at Baltimore City College, City Bloc wrote, “Thus, we must form ourselves to confront the implications of excluding conversations of protesting and civil disobedience against rape culture, immigration raids, and police brutality from a community that faces intersectional oppression on every level. These microaggressive acts of relegating political discourse to the back burner of our curriculum implicitly teaches students that their cultures, identities, and struggles are irrelevant and ‘unprofessional.'”
Principal Cindy Harcum told students there wouldn’t be an issue with their plans, according to the Baltimore Sun. However, on Monday, the school tweeted that “Students must wear regular uniform attire today. Appropriate, traditional cultural head wrap has also been approved.” There didn’t appear to be any disruption in students’ plans to wear nonuniform clothes on Monday or Tuesday.
Then the administration released a letter Tuesday afternoon, which read, in part, “I wish to inform you that despite recent print and social media sensationalism about dress code, City College will remain a uniform school. Although there is no change in the dress code, we do support yesterday and today’s cultural attire in the spirit of university and shared interests.” The principal wrote that “with the exception of approved exception days as determined by the administration” students must wear their uniforms. It is unclear if administration will approve students’ choices to dress outside of the school dress code for the remainder of the week.
Regarding curricula, the principal wrote, “As the only International Baccalaureate Diploma high school in the district, we will continue to provide a unique curriculum that focuses not only on rigorous standards and assessment, but also on an international perspective, global mindset, empathy and reflection.”
The principal also noted that requests for changing curricula “were heard” and students were invited to “join us this summer in the work.”