Declining an invitation to dance is against the rules at Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah, and one mom is now fighting for her daughter's right to say "no."
Azlyn Hobson spent weeks counting down the days until the Valentine’s Day dance at her Utah middle school. She'd had a great time at the two previous dances she'd attended at the school and this time, she was hoping to dance with a boy she had a crush on. The 11-year-old picked out her outfit a week ahead of time and on the morning the big event, stepped out in a red-and-pink floral sundress layered over a long-sleeve T-shirt and leggings, hair carefully arranged, buzzing with excitement. "She was so excited she could barely sleep," revealed the sixth grader's mom, Alicia Hobson.
School policy forbids kids from saying 'no' when asked to dance https://t.co/28UEjKEYbJ— TODAY with Hoda & Jenna (@HodaAndJenna) February 28, 2020
"It was supposed to be the best day ever," the 37-year-old added. Unfortunately, it wasn't. When Azlyn got home from the dance that afternoon, Hobson was taken aback to see her daughter have an "emotional explosion" in the kitchen as the girl recounted how she'd had to dance with a boy who makes her uncomfortable. "She politely said, 'No thank you,'" Hobson told TODAY. However, declining an invitation to dance is against the rules at Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah, and when principal Kip Motta overheard the exchange between his students, he urged Azlyn to dance with the boy.
"He said something like, 'No, no. You kids go out and dance.' He basically shooed Azlyn and the boy off onto the dance floor," Hobson revealed. "She was so excited in the morning when she left. I asked if she got to dance with the boy she liked, and she did and she was happy. But in the same breath she was exasperated because she had to dance with the boy she hates," she told The Washington Post. Azlyn told her mother that she hated every minute of the dance and was relieved when the song finally ended.
Upset that her daughter was declined her right to say no, Hobson is now calling out the school for overlooking the importance of consent in its policy. Recounting the incident on Facebook, she wrote: NO MEANS NO. A kid at school that makes my daughter uncomfortable asked her to dance at the school dance on Valentine's Day. She tried to say no thank you, and the principal overheard and intervened and told her she's not allowed to say no and that she has to dance with him. This boy has been quoted as publicly saying something very disturbing of a sexual nature. It doesn't matter if it's true or not. It doesn't matter if rumors are terrible and should be dismissed. That's irrelevant. The point is that this kid makes my daughter feel uncomfortable.
She should not have to stand close to him with his hands on her if she doesn't want to. She has the right to say no to anyone for any reason or no reason. Her body is her body and if she doesn't want to dance with someone, that's her prerogative. I understand that the spirit of the rule is to give the kids the confidence to ask other kids to dance without the risk of rejection, but guess what? In life, you get rejected all the time. They need to get used to it and learn how to cope with their frustration. Girls HAVE to learn that they have the right to say no and that those around them have to respect that, Hobson added.
Hobson revealed that when she reached out to Motta with her concerns, he stood by the school’s policy, explaining that it aims to make all students feel included. "We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy. There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included," he wrote in a letter to the concerned mother.
Although he acknowledged that it was unfortunate Azlyn felt uncomfortable at the middle school dance, he suggested that she tell him before the next dance if she does not want to dance with a classmate so that he can discretely prevent an awkward situation. Motta added that Hobson also has the option to check Azlyn out of school on days when dances were scheduled. Although Hobson believes Motta and the school district mean well, she isn't satisfied with the principal's response and wants the policy revised.
Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, agrees with the Hobson and believes the current policy sets a dangerous precedent. "Policies like this one not only overlook, but completely fly in the face of, what we need to be teaching young children — of all gender identities — about the importance of consent. Essentially, it is saying that a child needs to say 'yes' no matter how they feel, as a blanket rule. I don't think it's a stretch to say that such a message is very much in alignment with rape culture and, therefore, very dangerous if perpetuated," she said.