Ban on sagging pants has difficulty holding up at Henderson State

Henderson State University in Arkansas has removed signs instructing students not to wear saggy pants after they were criticized as racist, but administrators say the policy will remain in effect.

The signs, which were posted earlier this month in the student center, stated that in addition to sagging pants, profanity, “excessive loudness,” and rude behavior would also “not be tolerated,” ABC affiliate KATV News reports.

After just two days, however, the signs were removed in response to complaints from students who felt that the prohibition against sagging pants unfairly targeted African American students, with whom the style is often associated.

“The group that I’m representing was outraged by the sign,” HSU senior Daisha Haggans told KATV.

“It’s politically insensitive to certain groups,” added fellow senior Kristin Bell. “They felt like they were being targeted.”

Although the American Civil Liberties Union did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment, the organization has historically opposed bans on saggy pants that have been passed by state and local governments, on the grounds that they criminalize innocent behavior that does not intrude on the rights of others.

“Banning saggy pants in public is an affront to the Constitution and puts people at risk of being arrested for behavior that offends some people's sensibilities, but is not criminal,” the ACLU said in a 2012 press release responding to a ban proposed by a county in Mississippi. “Enforcement of this ban could easily lead to racial profiling, including targeting certain neighborhoods or areas, even though young people of all colors don sagging pants.”

The school’s bare-bones dress code requires only that students must wear “upper and lower garments and footwear” on campus, but also notes that, “[s]tudents are encouraged to exercise discretion in their dress attire while on campus.”

“We do a dis-service to students if we do not teach those values while they're here,” Dr. Lewis A. Shepherd, Jr., Vice President of Student and External Affairs, explained to KATV. “If we're trying to teach our students how to be more professional, I just don't think a sign was the right communication.”

Shepherd attributed the kerfuffle to “misunderstanding or miscommunication,” and maintained that, “there was not a particular group or individual that was targeted.”

According to university spokeswoman Tonya Smith, the signs were put up in response to concerns about disruptive behavior on campus.

“Posting the signs was a response to increasing concerns expressed over the past year by students, faculty, staff and community members about appropriate behavior across our campus, both in and out of the classroom,” Smith told Inside Higher Ed. “Our faculty in particular had experienced an increase in inappropriate classroom behaviors that were disturbing the learning environment.”

Although it has backed down to an extent by removing the signs, Henderson is nonetheless standing by the message, saying the university still expects students to adhere to the new rules, according to The Washington Times.

“We have removed the signs,” administrators wrote in an email to students. “However, we remain committed to supporting campus and classroom environments conducive to learning and respect for all members of our community.”

In addition to concerns about possible racial undertones, the signs have also come under fire for unnecessarily restricting the liberties of students on a more general level.

“This is yet another example of busybody college bureaucrats treating grown adults as children,” Students for Liberty communications director Casey Given told Campus Reform.

“Not only does this policy disproportionately affect African-Americans, it is almost certainly unconstitutional,” he asserted, pointing out that, “[t]he state has no right to dictate what a student can or cannot wear so long as their clothing does not impact the learning environment."

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