Graduation gowns: Students tackle gender neutrality

834

WESTBROOK — Allowing Westbrook High School seniors to decide which color graduation gown they wish to wear is just one of the ways the student council hopes to make an impact now that it has revamped itself into more of a decision-making body.

At its most recent meeting, Feb. 28, focusing on gender neutrality, the 13-member council voted to do away with the school’s traditional “blue for boys and white for girls” graduation gown approach and allow students to choose from the two colors.

The council also voted to convert a girls’ bathroom by the cafeteria into a gender-neutral facility.

Senior Chance Gagne made a motion to “eliminate the color bias” of the graduation gowns and to survey each senior class in the future about how it would like to deal with gown colors.

“We don’t have to have gender-specific colors,” he said.

Providing a choice, he said, also would allow students to keep family traditions alive by wearing the color their parents, grandparents or other family members wore.

Vice Chairman Sadie Cross said she worries people won’t feel “comfortable” choosing a color that breaks tradition, and asked Gagne if he thought members of the school’s LGBTQ community, for example, would feel safe bucking that tradition.

“Any student should be free to wear whatever school color they favor,” he told Cross.

Treasurer Emily Sawyer wondered about the seating arrangements for the graduation ceremony. Traditionally, students have been seated by height, with girls on one side of the stage and boys on the other.

Cross suggested the graduates be seated alphabetically and not by gender.

“The reason we don’t want to have a gender divide is we want to make (graduation) a safe atmosphere for everybody,” she said before amending Gagne’s resolution, something her fellow councilors unanimously approved.

Principal Kelli Deveaux, noting this is “a little bit of new territory,” suggested  looking at how other schools arrange their graduates. How many blue and white robes are requested won’t be known until seniors order them Monday, March 11.

Chairman Zoe Popovic, in her motion to offer a gender-neutral bathroom by the cafeteria,  said students deserve “fair representation and treatment” and should “have basic facilities that correspond to their gender identity.”

All council’s decisions are subject to administration approval.

Deveaux said while giving students a choice of graduation robe color is a relatively easy change, the feasibility of making the bathroom facility gender-neutral will have be looked into more. 

Deveaux said she is glad the council has transitioned into a more of a student government body. This winter it has been holding forums for students to debate issues facing them and their education.

“Having a student government as part of what we do at the high school is something I’ve wanted to see happen since I got there,” said Deveaux, who was hired as principal prior to the 2016-2017 school year. 

Deveaux is leaving the school later this month to work for the state Department of Education, but she said she hopes future administrators continue give students more opportunities to air and act on their concerns.

Superintendent Peter Lancia said he is proud of the students for helping to form the new student council, a idea that has been in the works since September 2017.

“I think it is a positive thing for students and a good avenue for student voice,” he said.

Popovic, who graduates in June, is glad students have the opportunity to weigh in on topics that are important to them.

“I am involved in a lot of clubs that have so many good ideas and ideas about making changes to the school, but nothing ever comes to a tangible outcome,” she said.

Cross, a student representative on the City Council, added that “there are voices to be heard” in the school and the student council is a good way for those opinions to be aired.

Social studies teacher John Morgan said the topics the student council takes up in their monthly forums and corresponding meetings are student-driven.

The slate for the rest of the year has been set. Later this month, the council will look into grading policies and procedures. In April, the group will focus on mental health services in the school and community, and the final session in May will be devoted to a discussion about expanding cafeteria options in the future by providing more vegan, vegetarian and ethnic dishes.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Between now and the end of the school year, the student council at Westbrook High School will be looking into grading policy, mental health awareness and changing food options in the cafeteria.

Zoe Popovic, center, leads the Feb. 28 meeting of the revamped student council  where the group discussed graduation robe color and gender-neutral bathrooms at the high school.

Emily Sawyer, left, and Heidi Huynh listen as Chance Gagne explains his graduation gown resolution.

High School social studies teacher and student council co-advisor David Ennis, a former town councilor in Windham, explains procedure as the high school student council considers two issues of gender inclusiveness Feb. 28.

SHARE