On Thursday morning, the superintendent of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s district announced that students would be required to wear clear backpacks on campus beginning next week.
Robert W. Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, announces that only clear backpacks will be allowed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after Spring Break, which is next week. The school will provide each student with a backpack at no cost.
— Patricia Mazzei (@PatriciaMazzei) March 21, 2018
Reaction to the news from the student activists who have been touring the country in an effort to lobby for stricter gun control regulation since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 classmates and teachers was swift, with many questioning the efficacy of the new rule.
Enforcing students to wear clear backpacks is simply like putting a band-aid on a broken bone
— natasha #NeverAgain (@sighnatasha) March 22, 2018
Clear backpacks don’t do anything except make us look stupid. We want to be safe, not uncomfortable. The only thing that can really have an impact on our safety is gun control
— Carly Novell (@car_nove) March 21, 2018
But this isn’t the first time that clear bags have been seen as a solution — or at least, one aspect of a larger solution — to violence. Following the Columbine shooting in 1999, schools adopted similar clear backpack policies; by the early 2000s, some schools copped to using their clear backpacks to check for banned electronics, drugs and alcohol.
Following terrorist violence at stadiums, most notably in 2015 when a Paris soccer stadium was bombed, the NFL and various collegiate conference stadiums stateside also began adopting clear bag policies. A clear backpack rule was implemented at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, and is required at some music festivals and other large-scale events.
In fashion, of course, transparent bags are nothing new, with the Lucite clutches first introduced in the 1950s and ‘60s — when as we all know from the famous Graduate quote, it was all about “Plastics.” In the ‘90s, the trend became associated with Rave culture, and with teens carrying transparent bags to draw attention to their tampons and their feminist literature. The same can be said for today’s modern cool teens carrying their Macbooks, their Beats Headphones and yes, their tampons and feminist literature, in clear backpacks they purchased from arbiter of irony, Urban Outfitters.
There are designer options, too, with Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes even dabbling in transparent territory for those who dare leave the contents of their purses exposed to passersby (or if you’re Eva Chen, to your Instagram followers). Solange is one celebrity who has carried a clear clutch on the red carpet on more than one occasion.
The issue when such bags are implemented by force rather than as a fashion choice, of course, is one of privacy. Those buying clear bags at Urban Outfitters with the hopes of garnering attention for their daring, tampon-brandishing ways are a special breed, especially in high school. Others have expressed safety concerns, worrying that exposing their expensive electronics puts them at greater risk of theft.
Their efficacy, too, is a longstanding subject of debate. In a 2003 article about a clear backpack rule at an Annapolis high school, Baltimore Sun writer Susan Reimer noted, “Clear backpacks offer a false — and almost silly — statement about security. And the clear backpacks make a very profound statement to the students: We don’t trust you. We don’t believe in you. We expect you to break our most serious rules.”
She continued, “It also says this to the students: You cannot trust your classmates. Your school is not safe.”
We’ll never know if those schools that implemented a clear backpack rule prevented shootings, but we do know that gun violence continues to be a controversial issue that demands action. (Everytown for Gun Safety reports that the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the 59th school shooting of 2018, however several outlets dispute this claim, taking issue with how a school shooting was defined.) Until stricter gun laws are enacted, we wonder if we can fault school administrators for doing something with the relatively small power they have.
One thing is for sure: The backpack rule has only fueled MSD students’ desire to effect change. They’ve had enough.