The way Rong Soung sometimes dresses might make some adults cringe: His pants are too droopy, his shirts too big, the gold chains thick around his neck. The 18-year-old Cambodian-American senior at Highline High School near Seattle says his choice of clothes and preference for rap music are part of the hip-hop culture he embraces – his way of expressing himself. School officials, though, see something else: gang trouble.
The Seattle Times reports that this clash over hip-hop culture, playing out to one extent or another in many homes and schools across the country, raises questions about the rights of students to express themselves and the lengths to which schools may legally go to regulate how students dress and behave. And it tests the bounds of generational tolerance for a fast-growing brand of pop culture, prompting the question: Where does hip-hop end and gang culture begin? It’s a question administrators, teachers and students are still grappling with in the Highline School District, where several dozen students who dress or behave in ways officials consider ganglike are on what the district calls “gang contract” – a status that presumes they were in a gang or headed in that direction when they were told to sign a contract with school authorities.