Phillipian Commentary: It Could Have Been Better

On Saturday night last week, two female students wearing bralettes were removed from a dance while, allegedly, other topless male students were allowed to stay. Considering that an officially recognized report of the incident has not been issued and different versions of the story have been circulated among students, it is better to avoid directly criticizing the incident itself. Instead, I reflected on the consequences and impacts of the protest announced after the incident, and I came to the conclusion that there is much room for improvement for all involved.

First of all, I think students leaders should not seek demonstration solely on their own. It is better to consult with the school about the manners of the demonstration before announcing the event on social media, which, unfortunately, was not the case. As the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts suggests, “The general rule is that free speech activity cannot take place on private property absent the consent of the property owner.”[a] Don’t get me wrong: I am not against the protest itself, but the bold decision to announce it at first without consulting with the administration. A protest is an acceptable way to express concerns, and this protest does not have an intent to confront the schools but to “stand up for those silenced by gender discriminatory dress codes,” as stated by its official email. Yet a protest not sponsored by the school may create tension, as many would misunderstand the protest as a stance against the administration as a whole. It would be better if the students and the school worked together on the issue throughout the entire process, so that the protest may actually deliver the message that BRAS 4 CAUSE wanted to send: “this is bigger than Andover.”

Besides, I believe that the initial protesting method of asking students to merely wear bras without any other clothing on is radical and irresponsible. It’s not about gender: different people have different ways of expressing themselves and also accept different articles of clothing. According to my physics teacher, the faculty meeting decided that no one could only wear bralettes in classrooms. Hence, it seems that many faculty members were against this way of self-expression. Some religions—including Islam and the Church of Latter-Day Saints—also view revealing clothing for all genders negatively. Thus, the initial way of protesting may actually upset a considerable number of people on campus; no wonder it caused controversies among the community. It is fortunate that the protesting method had been changed. Had the students and the school worked together on the protest and the means of protest, I believe the community would have welcomed the students more and the protest would have gained more traction quickly.

The school also could have been better prepared with the upcoming student-lead protest. The administration could have proposed plans for dealing with such issues ahead of time. Pathetically, the administration took no heed of the issue, and the current 2018-2019 version of the Blue Book does not have the word “protest” or “demonstration” in it.[b][c][d] Not a distinct chapter, not a unique paragraph, and not even a single line of the Blue Book addresses protests. Hence, it is not surprising that the administration addressed the protest hastily by holding a massive faculty meeting. Rather than focusing on coordinating student demonstrations, the school should be more prepared for such occasions where protests arise spontaneously.

As an afterthought, I feel as if this protest was sadly bound to fail. The fact that BRAS 4 CAUSE worked alone made it weak, and only begs the question: where were all the other student organizations which pledged themselves to actively combat gender-based discrimination? Long before Friday, the purpose of the protest had become clear—it is definitely not a protest of a few against the school, but a broader call against sexism—yet they did not appear. The lack of participation amongst such groups directly lead to the downfall of the movement. After all, the protest, planned by students alone, did not have access to the abundant resources in the school. This is all reflected in the fact that personally, I did not see anyone hanging a bra on their backpacks on campus on Friday; many of my friends share this sentiment. The fact that some groups were hesitant to participate because the students involved in the incident did not support the protest cannot fully explain the fiasco. It may also be worth considering whether these organizations are really effective when all the fuss dies down. To conclude, students collaborating with the school would definitely bring a better outcome for everyone involved on Friday.

After a tumultuous weekend full of Instagram posts and poster in commons, I am relieved to see a peaceful campus again. The whole chain of consequences, sparked from the lack of cooperation between the administration and the students, is a serious lesson. We should be better prepared for similar spontaneous events and seek cooperation among the community, rather than acting boldly and risking the bonding of the whole community. We could have done better.