Spencer Kadlec, Guest Contributor

Recently, a new rule has been put into place: we are only allowed to have one of four things for our Google profile photo: an appropriate picture of yourself, your initials, the Portage Northern logo, or a husky, the school mascot. So what happened that made this be put into place? We don’t know. Maybe someone ruined it for everyone, or maybe they just want more control. Whatever the reason, this decision has digital “school uniform” written all over it. 

If the main reason behind this is the  first one, why punish everyone for something one or a few people did? For example, if one kid in a group was wearing something that went against the school’s dress code, we would make the entire school wear uniforms, or if someone pulls a false fire alarm, which is much worse, we still wouldn’t punish everyone for that one person’s actions. Punishing all students for the actions of a few – who could easily be asked one at a time to change their pictures if they were a problem – makes this rule the virtual equivalent of a school uniform. 

Also, the reason for the change was broadcast by many teachers as, “It’s so we can recognize you if and when you come back to school.” But if that’s the argument, how are initials or a generic school logo, or even a husky, going to help that? Maybe that argument works if you’re only allowed to use your face, but the argument does not validate the other reasons. I’d almost think seeing a profile picture and having it be related to a student’s interests or hobbies would help teachers recognize them more than a logo, and it would also let teachers learn about their students. If we don’t have school uniforms in person, why would we police our profile photos in the same kind of way online?

Some would argue it’s more like a virtual “dress code.” I think it compares more to a uniform, as uniforms give you a strict “this is what you HAVE to wear” versus a dress code which allows more freedom and personal expression. A dress code says “just don’t wear this and you’re fine.” The difference comes down to you get more freedom than less with a dress code and less freedom than more with a uniform. If the policy did represent a dress code, it would focus more on what you can’t have as your profile photo as opposed to prescribing what you can. There would be a small list of things that aren’t allowed, not a small list of things that are allowed. 

This might seem like a small issue, but actually it is very important. Profile photos are how students are presenting themselves when they can’t be in person. This rule is now limiting students’ only outlet for self expression. Since we’re in a virtual environment instead of being in person, expression is even more important. In person, students get a lot more opportunities to express themselves, however with being virtual, they really only get just this one. In enforcing this policy, administrators are dictating the one small opportunity that exists to let students express who they are. 

If it’s not hurting anyone and is safe for a school environment, what’s the matter with having a baseball, cat, or Star Wars character as your profile picture? Let students do what they want and let them safely express themselves instead of threatening to suspend them because their profile picture is a dragon.