Thursday, May 28

Mariah Furtek: Dining hall dress codes need more clarity to avoid insensitivity

(Miriam Bribiesca/Photo editor)

No shoes, no shirt, no service.

This isn’t just a silly slogan found outside beachfront restaurants; it is also the UCLA dress code for its residential dining halls, which can be found online.

Hailey Black, a first-year pre-human biology and society student, felt the brunt of that policy April 22 when she entered De Neve dining hall in a cover-up worn over a one-piece bathing suit.

Black said she was neither “dress-coded” when she swiped into the dining hall, nor was she stopped at any of the many food lines she stood in. Instead, she said a male UCLA Dining Services employee pulled her aside when she was sitting down to eat her food and said her outfit violated the dress code.

Black said she was then directed to another manager, who agreed her cover-up did not qualify as a shirt. She was then told if she did not change, she needed to leave the dining hall immediately.

Though she was visibly upset, Black said Dining Services employees made no effort to bring her to a more private space to discuss her alleged violation of dress code. Confused, angry and ashamed, Black was brought to tears in front of fellow De Neve patrons, she said.

At this point, another Dining Services manager stepped in. Black said that after taking her to a more private space and apologizing for the way she was treated, the manager explained how the dress code exists to protect students from sexual assault, commenting on the way that girls wear less clothing in the warmer weather.

Black said she was shocked and appalled at this statement, especially because she has friends who are survivors of sexual assault.

The employee’s explanation of the dress code is not only inaccurate; it invalidates sexual assault, sexualizes women’s bodies and perpetuates victim blaming. Dining Services cannot tolerate this behavior, nor should it force it upon students.

“It just shows how people are always looking to blame women,” Black said.

Black was compelled to share her story on the UCLA Class of 2020 Facebook page, where two other students came forth with similar stories of being “dress-coded” at the dining halls. They declined to comment for this column.

To prevent these kind of incidents from happening again, Dining Services should implement a more comprehensive protocol regarding the enforcement of the dress code.

These incidents are appalling because they promote a dangerous message that the way a woman dresses dictates how the world should treat her. Sadly, you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who hasn’t experienced this kind of shaming – like the high school teachers who would pull you aside in the hallway to not-so-kindly inform you that your skirt rides up in such a way when you get up from your seat to do problems at the whiteboard. It saddens me to see such close-minded practices follow us to college.

Granted, Dining Services apologized to Black and sent her a gift basket along with a letter, but this incident – and the other accounts that were shared following Black’s post – make it clear that more than an apology is in order.

It’s clear that Dining Services employees currently feel they have enough leeway to make inappropriate and damaging comments about what adult women can do with their bodies.

Dining Services agrees it needs to change.

“All Dining managers are receiving further training on appropriate handling of dress-code violations and have been made aware of the earlier error in judgment,” said Dining Services in a written response.

As a part of this education process, Dining Services should implement a new, clear dress-code protocol.

If a student is deemed to be in violation of the “no shirt, no shoes” rule, employees must inform the student before swiping in order to prevent the kind of public humiliation Black said she experienced. After the student is informed at the entrance of the dining hall, they should be given the option to speak with a manager. This procedure would prevent Dining Services employees from slut-shaming or making other inappropriate comments during dress-code enforcement.

Furthermore, there should be only one manager at each dining hall to handle complaints by students about dress code policy. This manager should have a scripted explanation of the dress code policy for the students to prevent offensive comments like the ones made to Black.

If the idea that UCLA is educating women only to disempower them in the dining halls doesn’t ruin your appetite, nothing will.

Opinion staff columnist

Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.

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