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Girls Say No to Dress Codes

This summer, a group of girls in Grade 8 took part in an unusual protest in Maryland.

When the girls -- students at Urbana Middle School in Frederick County -- walked into Urbana’s dining room in yellow, baggy T-shirts, everyone cheered. The yellow shirts were punishment for violating the school's dress code. But the girls had written a sentence on their clothing:
“I am more than a distraction.”

Also in Maryland, a young woman named Rachel Zuniga launched what became a popular student petition at her school, Linganore High School. Her campaign questioned why many of Linganore’s dress code policies required girls to cover up much of their bodies.

The girls are part of a larger group of students who say dress codes unfairly target females.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that schools have the right to limit a student’s expression if they believe it disturbs the learning environment or violates the rights of other students.

But conflicts arise between the definition of disturbance and students' rights. Many students say dress codes conflict with gender equality – an important idea in American democracy.

More Than A Distraction

Two years ago, a group of girls in South Orange, New Jersey launched an online campaign to protest their high school’s dress code. The campaign was called #IAmMoreThanADistraction. It got national attention as girls shared their experiences about what they said were unfair rules about students’ clothing.

Since that campaign began, hundreds of petitions have questioned school dress codes. Some students have walked out of school in protest, according to an article in The Atlantic.

Many girls are uniting against dress codes. They say these rules result in body shaming. At the heart of it all, they say, is the notion that girls’ bodies are a “distraction.”

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Lauren Weis is the director of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. She agrees that some dress codes target girls.

“As I see it, the problem is that these kinds of codes sexualize and demean girls’ bodies because they assume that girls and their bodies are a distraction or a temptation to male students.”

Other educators and sociologists also find dress codes vexing and illogical. That females should be responsible for the unwanted attention from others does not make sense. The Atlantic points to the example that “those wearing what could be considered sexy clothing are ‘asking for’ a response.”

Weis said a new social awareness is happening among girls, and that some of it “is the result of the popularity of what we might call ‘pop culture feminism,’” she told VOA.

She said celebrities like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Emma Watson have publicly promoted feminist ideas “in ways that seem to make sense to young women.”

Social Media and Popular Culture

Last year, security officers at Vista Murietta High School in California removed at least 25 girls from class for dress code violations, according to Seventeen magazine. Most of the girls were told their dresses or skirts were too short.

The incident took place in June when the temperature was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (Or 32 degrees Celsius.) The school’s policy says that dresses, skirts, and shorts must be no shorter than 4 inches or 10 centimeters above the top of the knee.

One Vista Murietta student posted a photograph on social media of a boy wearing very short shorts, noting that girls are not permitted to wear shorts that length.

Weis believes that the Vista Murietta students and others are evidence of something beyond gender: a larger social movement around inequality.

“And in today’s culture, there’s so much more awareness of inequality, so, inequality on the basis of gender or sexuality as well as race, class, economic status, and, more recently in the news, so much discussion about sexual assault and sexual violence, and young girls are paying attention.”

There is another group whose gender Weis believes is unfairly targeted: students whose gender expression is different from their legally recorded sex. She says that gender-specific dress codes may punish and humiliate them and it does not create a good learning environment.

For example, earlier this year, CNN reported that a lunch worker at a high school in Ohio denied a boy his meal because the boy was wearing a bow in his hair. In fact, 19 percent of students around the country say they were not permitted to wear clothing that administrators thought was “inappropriate” for their gender. This number comes from a report called the 2013 National School Climate Survey.

Weis calls the growing social movement around dress code “a positive and hopeful sign” that young people today will be active in civic life in a way that has not happened in many years.

Listen to a longer, audio version of this story:
Growing Number of American Girls Questions School Dress Codes (0:13:04)

This story first appeared in VOA Learning English.

Have you gone to school where there is a dress code? Did you like it? Or not? Write to us in the Comments, and visit our Facebook page.

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Police open hazing investigation after Dartmouth student found dead

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Police have opened a hazing investigation after a Dartmouth College student was found dead in a river in early July.

Police received a tip that hazing was involved, and there was evidence that alcohol might have been involved in the death, USA Today reported. (July 2024)

Americans' confidence in higher education falls, poll shows

FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.
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Confidence in higher education among Americans is declining, according to a recent poll that found 36% of adults expressed a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in higher education, down from 57% in 2015.

The Gallup and the Lumina Foundation poll also revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of adults feel the U.S. higher education system is heading in the “wrong direction” vs. 31% of those respondents saying it is going in the “right direction.”

The poll, conducted June 3-23, surveyed 1,005 Americans aged 18 and older.

Declining enrollment mirrors concerns voiced by some Americans about colleges focusing on political agendas, neglecting relevant skills and being overly expensive.

Nathan Wyand, a software engineer in Charlottesville, Virginia, told VOA News he chose not to attend college due to high costs and the challenging curriculum.

“The mode of learning was very stressful. Every month and a half, I would break down in tears,” Wyand said, adding, “I didn’t want to deal with the debt and lack of freedom in choosing what to learn.”

Post-high school, Wyand said he explored different jobs before pursuing software development through a 10-month data science bootcamp at Flatiron School in New York.

“I took online courses at Flatiron, learning about software development. In my current role, I have practical experience, though less theoretical knowledge than peers with computer science degrees,” Wyand noted.

Wyand valued freedom in learning over being told what to learn in a structured classroom.

“I didn't want other people to tell me what I was going to learn, I was tired of that and ready to take charge of my education,” he said.

While costs influenced Wyand’s decision against college, he advises against dismissing it solely due to expenses.

“Don’t avoid college because you’re lazy or because it’s expensive. Avoid college if you feel that there is something better or more interesting to you that you can pursue instead. It’s important to have an objective,” he said.

The survey conducted last month reaffirms that 36% of adults maintain strong confidence in higher education, unchanged from the previous year.

“At a time where the U.S. needs more skilled Americans to fulfill our labor market needs of today and tomorrow it is concerning to see that they are losing confidence that higher education can deliver what they need,” Courtney Brown, vice president at Lumina, an education nonprofit, told VOA News.

Researchers are concerned by fewer Americans expressing “some” confidence and more reporting of “very little” or “none.”

“This year’s findings show a notable increase in those with little to no confidence, now at 32%, compared to 10% in 2015. This trend is alarming and must be reversed,” Brown said.

Brown stressed the need to address concerns about perceived political influences and lack of relevant skills in higher education.

“Society must tackle college costs directly. Many find college unaffordable, leading to crippling debt. I do believe higher ed can transform and ensure it meets the needs of students, but to do so we must pay attention to these data and address these concerns head on – the stakes of not doing so are far too great for individuals, communities and our nation,” Brown added.

John Pollock, a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, told VOA he agrees with the poll’s findings.

“College is a business, not a guarantee for jobs or debt repayment. Many our age see multiple paths to success,” Pollock said. He added that networking opportunities are one value that colleges offer.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who expressed a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, 27% said it is important for individuals and society to be educated.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who said their confidence in higher education was “very little/none,” 41% cited colleges as being “too liberal,” or trying to “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” students as reasons for their replies.

Overall, 68% of respondents believe higher education is on the wrong track, contrasting with 31% who see it heading in the right direction.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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The United States, which currently has 1,057,188 students from 210 countries, could have 2.8 million students by 2034, according to a report in India’s Free Press Journal.

The report says India is likely to make a significant contribution to the increase, along with China, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh. (June 2024)

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A group of just 102 public and private, four-year U.S. colleges and universities has an enrollment of 3.3 million students – about 1 in 5 of the nation’s undergraduates.

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After $1B gift, most Johns Hopkins medical students won't pay tuition

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Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Monday.

Starting in the fall, the donation will cover full tuition for medical students from families earning less than $300,000. Living expenses and fees will be covered for students from families who earn up to $175,000.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said that currently almost two-thirds of all students seeking a doctor of medicine degree from Johns Hopkins qualify for financial aid, and 45% of the current class will also receive living expenses. The school estimates that graduates' average total loans will decrease from $104,000 currently to $60,279 by 2029.

The gift will also increase financial aid for students at the university's schools of nursing, public health, and other graduate schools.

"By reducing the financial barriers to these essential fields, we can free more students to pursue careers they're passionate about – and enable them to serve more of the families and communities who need them the most," Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, said in a statement on Monday. Bloomberg received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1964.

FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.
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The gift will go to John Hopkins' endowment and every penny will go directly to students, said Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University.

"Mike has really been moved by the challenges that the professions confronted during the course of the pandemic and the heroic efforts they've made to protecting and providing care to American citizens during the pandemic," Daniels said in an interview. "I think he simply wanted to recognize the importance of these fields and provide this support to ensure that the best and brightest could attend medical school and the school of nursing and public health."

Bloomberg Philanthropies previously gifted $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins in 2018 to ensure that undergraduate students are accepted regardless of their family's income.

Johns Hopkins will be the latest medical school to offer free tuition to most or all of their medical students.

In February Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the widow of a Wall Street investor, announced that she was donating $1 billion to the school. The gift meant that four-year students immediately received free tuition and all other students will be offered free tuition in the fall.

In 2018, Kenneth and Elaine Langone gave $100 million to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine to make tuition free for all current and future medical students through an endowment fund. The couple gave a second gift of $200 million in 2023 to the NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine to guarantee free tuition for all medical students. Kenneth Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot.

Other medical schools, like UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, offer merit-based scholarships thanks to some $146 million in donations from the recording industry mogul, David Geffen. The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has also offered tuition-free education for medical students since 2008.

Candice Chen, associate professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University, has researched the social missions of medical schools and had a strong reaction to the recent major gifts to John Hopkins, NYU and Albert Einstein.

"Collectively the medical schools right now, I hate to say this, but they're failing in terms of producing primary care, mental health specialists as well as the doctors who will work in and serve in rural and underserved communities," Chen said. She would have loved to see this gift go to Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, for example, which is a historically Black school that has produced many primary care doctors who work in communities that have shortages.

Bloomberg granted Meharry Medical College $34 million in 2020 as part of a $100 million gift he made to four Black medical schools to help reduce the debt of their medical students for four years.

There have been only a handful of previous $1 billion donations to universities in the U.S., most coming in the past several years.

In 2022, the venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann, gave $1.1 billion to Stanford University for a new school focusing on climate change.

The small liberal arts school McPherson College has received two matching pledges since 2022 from an anonymous donor totaling $1 billion. The school, which has around 800 enrolled students, has a program for automotive restoration and is located 57 miles north of Wichita, Kansas.

Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, gave $3 billion to charities in 2023, making him one of the largest donors, according to research by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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