First Year student speaks out against graduation dress-code

By Carmen Burkholder

Hannah Kozak ‘23

Hannah Kozak ’23 is a first-year political science student at Chatham University’s Shadyside campus. Last spring, she made national headlines when she decided to take action on an issue that will have a long-lasting impact not only on her hometown of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania but also on high schools across the state.

In early March, students at Norwin High School were notified via the school’s
communication app about the school’s dress code for graduation. There were strict color schemes for both male and female students. Plus, it banned female students from wearing pants. This particular rule stood out to Kozak. Even though she was not personally offended by the “no pants” regulation, she was determined to make them an option for those who would feel more comfortable wearing them.

“I believe that people deserve to have a choice,” Kozak said. “Pants are common in any other professional setting. Why should they be unacceptable in this environment?”

She went to the senior class advisor, who sent out the notification. The response she got was that the advisor “didn’t make the rules, only enforced them.”

Next, she spoke with the school’s principal, Dr. Michael Choby. Within a few minutes of their conversation, Kozak knew that it was clear she was not getting the response she wanted. The next step was to go to the school board. After having a conversation with superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, she was told to talk to the principal again once Taylor had spoken to him.

That time, Choby told Kozak that he thought it would be “distracting and jarring” to see girls wearing pants during the ceremony. Kozak recognized that she was graduating in a large class and understood that the school
didn’t want personal attention on students, but she believed that not allowing women to wear a simple clothing item was “a step too far.”

The following day she got in contact with local news outlet KDKA-TV to share the story. A segment about the situation aired that night, and the school released a statement that said it was aware of the issue and was currently handling it with Kozak. At this point, Kozak recalled beginning to feel defeated due to the lack of recognition from the school. The segment, though, stirred a conversation within the community about the school’s outlook.

From private Facebook groups to independent blogs, Kozak’s efforts were starting to gain attention. The next day, the Washington Post picked up the story. Soon radio shows and even more reporting websites were talking about the “no pants” regulation and Kozak’s fight to end it. With all of the publicity, the school district decided that her cause was one worth noting.

A couple days after the Washington Post story was published, the Norwin school board sent out a message via the school app stating the new dress code for graduation — and it permitted pants for all. Kozak shared that after everything was finalized she received mild backlash on social media from people who said that “sometimes in life you just have to do things you don’t wantto,” she recalled.

Kozak believes that it’s important to hold people accountable when they do
unjust things, she said. By striving for success in this endeavor, she has fulfilled her desire to “make others feel more comfortable and have an easier day to day life.”

Becoming involved in your own community not only can help you feel safer and more comfortable but it also can help others feel accepted for who they are. “When people tell you that your fight isn’t valid, you have to keep being persistent and show that you’re not going to stop fighting for what you’re fighting for,” she said. “Don’t step away, make sure that you follow up and show that you’re going to stick around. Hold people accountable.”

Kozak aspires to help in the future with the Sunrise Movement, which involves young people working together to prevent climate change, or the American Civil Liberties Union and to continue her path in activism.