NEW ROCHELLE, NY — With overwhelming support from the members of the New Rochelle Board of Education and under the leadership of New Rochelle High School Principal Reginald Richardson, all students graduating in 2017 will wear purple gowns. Gown color will be optional in 2016.
The formal announcement came in an email sent Friday by Richardson to members of the New Rochelle High School community.
“I am pleased to share with you that the class of 2016 will be the last class that will have graduation robes assigned by gender,” said Richardson. “Beginning with the class of 2017, all students will dress in purple gowns, a strong visual declaration of the unity we all feel.”
“As we support all of our students on the path to adulthood, we have come to know that a number of them have begun the journey of identifying as transgender, gender neutral, gender-fluid, or non-binary gender. Some have taken the first courageous steps of sharing their truth with their friends and families. Others may have privately identified their gender identity and are not yet ready to share this information publicly. Having a single color cap and gown for graduation is an important step toward creating an atmosphere that allows all of our students to enjoy the capstone event of their high school career equally, without the anxiety or fear that gender-specific colors might cause.”
The decision comes less than three weeks after two students addressed the school board to present a petition signed by 40 students calling the binary system of purple for boys and white for girls “archaic” with “no place in our community”.
Richardson told the board at a meeting on February 23rd held at the Trinity Elementary School ”sometimes the things that are in front of us every day act as symbols and sometimes those symbols can either contradict or at least create a tension in terms of our intentions to create safe and joyous place”.
One student speaking to the board that was unfair to cause unnecessary anxiety for “non-binary students”, those who do not align with either male or female to openly declare their gender.
The student said that gender-neutral graduation robes was one way that all students could graduate comfortably and confidently.
Richardson expressed his gratitude to the students that brought this opportunity to be more inclusive to his attention.
Several board members praised the students for raising the issue.
Board member Chrisanne Petrone praised the students for their courage and for being “trailblazers” in setting the tone for the future of the district.