Editorial: The role of tradition at BSS

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As we’re all well aware of, this year is the 150th anniversary of BSS. We find ourselves celebrating our school’s history and how far we’ve come since the foundation of our school in 1867.  The concept of tradition is brought up time and time again, as we are proud to be Canada’s oldest independent day and boarding school for girls and look to commemorate our past. Furthermore, 2017 has seen the name change of the traditional “Father Daughter Dance” to the more inclusive “Bishop Ball.” This name change was meant to promote inclusion, as not all students have male father figures in their lives and every kind of family is celebrated at BSS. Some aren’t sure about the change, as they feel connected to the traditional father-daughter only nature of the event. All this talk of history and tradition begs the question; what is the true role of tradition at BSS?

From chapel, to nativity, to our signature sailor suits, tradition is alive and well at BSS. We see it in our Bishop’s crest, weekly prayers and school hymns. When listening to the Chamber Choir perform In Dulci Jubilo or watching the grads throw their ties in the air, it’s easy to identify our traditions and see them as positives. They allow us to foster an identity as BSS students and remind us to be proud of the institution that has always recognized the importance of women’s education. However, when we examine the history of BSS further, perhaps the true traditions of BSS aren’t quite so obvious.

Progression is key to a happy and positive community. This is a lesson that BSS focuses on and strives to teach its students at every opportunity. How, one might ask, can progression truly exist when traditions remain intact? It was once a tradition at BSS that girls dress exceptionally modestly and wear long skirts and dresses as well as chapel veils. The effects of these traditions are still felt, as the code of conduct requires students to wear skirts of an appropriate length as well as cover shoulders, midriffs and chests on grub days. Some would argue that these traditions are in fact harmful to students. These rules force girls to conform to patriarchal expectations for women that tie modesty to respect and suppress female sexuality as well as sexualize and objectify the female body. If this is a tradition that does more harm than good, what traditions should we celebrate? How important is remembering our history? Is focusing on the past a good thing?

Mrs. Anne Thompson, Lady Principal of BSS from 1872-75 recognized the injustice of these expectations for girls. Women were and are seen as sexual objects, homemakers, or mothers, exclusively. Their intelligence and power belittled and suppressed. In the 1870s, Thompson said, “Remember girls, you are not going home to the selfish butterflies of fashion. The Bishop Strachan School has been endeavoring to fit you to become useful and courageous women. I believe you will yet see our universities open to women. Work out your freedom, girls! Knowledge is now no more a fountain seal’d; drink deep.” This statement was progressive, powerful, and holds true to this day. Perhaps then, the true tradition of BSS, the one that should be celebrated, is one of constant change. Our school believes in women and girls, and has prioritized equality and education since its foundation. Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made in our history, but the tradition of progression is what allows us to move forwards. This is a tradition we can truly celebrate.

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Editorial: The role of tradition at BSS