KARISA CERNERA ’14
Last Thursday, I was excited to attend the Trinity Women’s Leadership Council’s Networking 101 Luncheon. As a graduating senior, I have exploited any opportunity to speak to professionals in my projected field and to circulate my resume. The night before the luncheon, we received an email from the Career Development Office explaining the dress code for the following day. The dress parameters were pretty vague but they did say explicitly not to wear leggings or extremely high or brightly colored heels. The email also told Trinity women not to display cleavage and to opt for pants over a short skirt. All of these parameters seemed like common sense to me. I have had four internships throughout my college years, all of which I have needed to interview for and look professional. When I picked out my outfit for the following day I chose to dress conservatively, choosing to wear black pants, a black shirt, a tan blazer and loafers.
After attending my morning class, I headed over to the luncheon with some of my friends who were all dressed conservatively as well. We signed into the event and got our nametags and our programs and headed towards the doors of the luncheon. All of a sudden, we were all pulled aside by a woman standing outside of the doors who was a member of the Career Development staff. She asked us if we got her email, which we all replied that we did. She then went on to tell us that we were not dressed “appropriately” to attend this event. She even told us that our outfits were “offensive” and lastly that our outfits would make the professional women at the luncheon uncomfortable. I looked around and was dumbfounded. Every single girl I was with was conservatively dressed and in no way were our outfits offensive. She acted as if we were dressed in mini skirts and had our breasts on display while we actually had on long pants, button-up shirts or crew neck sweaters. I was even wearing a blazer. I was completely confused and began to challenge this woman. Nowhere in her email did she say that we had to be dressed as if we were interviewing and after she continually told us that we were dressed unprofessionally, I decided to stop fighting. As I looked around at the group of girls that I was with, unprofessional was definitely not an adjective I would have used to describe these young women. Every single girl that I attended the event with was an intelligent and accomplished member of the senior class at Trinity College. These girls all have faculty honors, all at some point were heads of clubs or organizations, and one of the young women turned away from the event in my group is a senior presidential fellow. In no way are these young women “offensive” or “inappropriate.” Similarly, as I looked around, I saw many girls who were allowed into the event wearing short skirts and bare legs and not one of them were told that they were “inappropriate”. In fact, I even saw one girl wearing a cheetah print dress while we were detained in the hallway.
Immediately after this debacle, I returned to my room and sent a picture of my outfit to my mother asking whether or not she thought my outfit was “inappropriate” or “offensive.” My mother is the CEO of a major insurance company, has been in the professional world for 30 years, and interviews candidates for employment regularly. She told me that there was nothing inappropriate or offensive about my outfit and I was glad that I wasn’t going completely insane. Honestly, I could have put on another outfit from my closet and returned back to the event but, out of respect for myself, I decided against it as did the other girls in my friend group. We actually discussed our desire to return back to that event naked and say, “here is inappropriate for you.”
I couldn’t believe that even though we were completely covered from head to toe we were considered inappropriate while girls in short dresses were deemed acceptable. Is this 1960? Since when is it acceptable for girls to be considered appropriately dressed only when they are wearing dresses and skirts? What kind of message is Career Development sending to the girls at Trinity College? It seems to me that many girls were turned away from this event for not conforming to expectations of femininity. At first, I honestly thought that this was just a theory of mine. As a Women, Gender, and Sexuality minor at Trinity College, I am always thinking about gender roles and the expectations for women to be feminine. But, my theory was proven further when I spoke to other girls who were also outraged for being deemed inappropriate for the event.
One conversation with fellow Tripod alumnae, Chloe Miller, who was also turned away from the event proved my point. She was dressed in the exact outfit that she intended to wear to work at the admissions office later that day. Her outfit was also deemed inappropriate even though she was wearing black corduroys, a silk button up shirt, a cardigan and black flats. Just as I had done, Chloe followed the instructions given to us in the email—no leggings or jeans or brightly colored heels—yet she was still deemed “unprofessional.” It wasn’t until she went home and put on a skirt that she was allowed back into the event. I also talked to two other young women who were turned down upon entry and were only allowed back in when they put on dresses or skirts. Throughout the day, I kept hearing about girls who were denied entry into the networking event. Apparently, many girls who attended the event wore short skirts and bare legs and one female student was even wearing a leather skirt—yet they were not seen as unprofessional.
Out of curiosity, I also asked my peers about the types of outfits worn by the Trinity alumni at the event. All said that the women were dressed professionally and conservatively but in varying degrees. Some of the professional women in attendance were wearing pantsuits while some of them wore jeans. Reportedly, one woman even wore a cheetah print blazer. I highly doubt that they would have been personally offended by any of the girls turned away from the event.
Because of the sheer number of young women denied access to this luncheon, there was definitely a failure on the part of the Career Development Office to articulate dress parameters expected in a clear and effective manner. If we were explicitly told that we were supposed to wear dresses, pant suits, or other business attire, we would have. Nowhere in the email did it say dress as if you were interviewing for a job. Simply telling a group of girls to not wear leggings, shorts skirts, or heels obviously does not suffice. I also think that Career Development failed in its job to connect young capable females with Trinity alumni. If anything, this event should have been a casual one where students could comfortably interact with fellow Trinity students and alumni. I think that Career Development needs to understand that students who attended this event did so voluntarily.
They wanted to connect with alumni and discuss future career options. Instead of being supported by the Career Development Office (as they should have been) they were berated, disrespected, and denied the opportunity to network with successful Trinity alumni.