July 24, 2017

Gang representation creates gray areas, unfair judgment

by Jacquelin Camacho, Staff Reporter

For many years, the Chicagoland area has been home to dozens of dangerous gangs. Gang violence and representation has been a recurring concern in our area.  WHS has had issues with gangs, and it has maintained a strict dress code to discourage students from getting involved in gang activity.

Like many other high schools, WHS has to keep up with the changing color combinations, numbers and symbols of gangs. Deans and security guards must constantly keep watch to stop students from using certain clothing and reinforce WHS’s intolerance of gang activity and image.

It is not difficult for the deans to identify the people who are involved in gangs. Shockingly, by the time students become freshmen, WHS’s administration has already been informed of who is involved in what gang.

“We have meetings with the middle schools. Kids rarely get involved in high school; it starts in middle school,” Ramon Williams, dean of students, says.

The deans have a four-page long, handwritten list describing each gang and its fashion trends. The never-ending list shocked me; I realized how oblivious I was to a lot of fashion trends that belong to the culture of the area’s gangs. It is handwritten because it is constantly changing, and it seems that many of the items of clothing that gangs are wearing could be in any student’s closet.

“The kids who cannot wear these things already know. I have meetings with them and their parents, and I review the list with them,” Dean Williams said.

He mentions that he finds it important for the deans and security guards to be proactive about new trends and not leave it up to teachers to recognize trends.

“I want them (the teachers) to focus on their jobs,” Dean Williams said.

It is really important for the administration to remain educated in the fashion trends of gang members to be able to effectively enforce a dress code that does not tolerate gang representation. However, gangs have employed so many color combinations and symbols to represent their gangs that a gray area has been created that the deans and other students must deal with.

“Recently, I’ve caught onto the MLDs using Bulls jerseys to represent their gang,” Dean Williams said.

Not all students are forbidden from wearing Bulls jerseys, but students who have been identified for having been involved in gang activity must follow a stricter dress code.

“I was told to take off my Bulls jersey once,” Jocelyn Cruz, senior, said.

She was approached by a staff member for wearing a Joakim Noah jersey earlier this year.

“I am not involved in any gangs at all, I am just a huge fan of Noah. I was really mad when I was told I could not wear the jersey,” Cruz said.

Despite Cruz’s claim to not be involved in gangs, she has chosen to refrain from wearing her jersey since then to avoid confrontation with staff members again.

“During Pack the Place week, I saw a couple of people wearing Noah’s jersey. I asked myself why I was not allowed to wear my jersey, but they were. I want to be able to wear mine again, too,” Cruz said.

The misunderstandings between students and staff in regards to gang related fashion trends could result in unfair punishments. In Cruz’s case, she was singled out for representing a gang that she did not even know existed.

Although the administration does its best to only apply stricter dress codes to students who have already received violations, they should also respond to situations like Cruz’s in a different way. Because some of the fashion trends are not obvious to people who are not involved in gangs, like the Bulls jerseys, the WHS staff should be more aware of who has already been identified as a gang member and who is simply rooting for their home team.

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