Meet 3 dental students who stood up against a faculty’s uniform taboo

A norm for some, a new challenge against taboos for others. Meet 3 dental students from Chulalongkorn University who joined the school students’ campaign calling for free choice of dress in a place where uniforms are obligatory for undergraduates.

The campaign initiated by KKC Pakee Students, a student activist group in Khon Kaen province, then joined by Bad Students, another prominent group, caught public attention when students in many schools received both praise and criticism for not wearing uniforms to school on the first day of the new semester on 1 December.

Champ, Pok and Ploy, 3 undergraduate dental students from Chulalongkorn University, who all asked not to be named, decided not to wear their uniforms to a clinical class. They found themselves to be the only three that broke the taboo, but it shed a new light on their everyday lives by bringing them into the public debate over uniforms.

“In our status as nisit (a term referring to undergraduate students at some Thai universities), in the education system, we think that our Faculty, or even Chula, should come out and say something to show that in higher education institutions it should be appropriate to wear (normal clothes). Although our Faculty has a conflict about working with patients and most of the teachers think conservatively, if we do not try to show our ideas, there might be no other chance,” said Champ.

“If we wear the clothes of our choice while at university, teachers can point out which outfit is not proper in their opinion. Then, when we go on to a master’s degree, we will know what we should wear,” said Ploy.

Champ said they heard about the campaign on Twitter, and they started to ask friends in small groups to participate. In the end, there were 3 of them.

The next day, Champ wore a blue Hawaiian shirt along with the regulation long trousers to the Faculty while Pok wore a white T-shirt with a navy blue-orange jacket and Ploy wore a blue dress.

Same-old faculty, new perspective

“I was a little excited because I was afraid that the teachers would tell us off because during my 4th year, I once dyed my hair blue to class and some teachers [told me] that it’s not polite,” said Ploy

The three said they wanted to show that clothes do not affect their performance in treating patients and studying, when they have to wear gown on top of whatever outfit they wear anyway. On the other hand, the uniform regulations prove to be troublesome, especially for students who have to attend clinical classes as it hinders mobility. The choice of clothing should be free, as long as it is proper.

The three found that it was not so bad, besides feeling a bit nervous, as their surrounding friends and faculty staff mostly did not object to what they did. Teachers mistook them for graduate students or exchange students who are allowed to wear their own clothes. Some even agreed that any clothes should be allowed.

But Champ was later summoned to the Student Affairs Division. He was lectured and had conduct points deducted.

According to CU university regulations, male students have to wear a white shirt, black or navy blue long trousers, a black leather belt with the CU logo on the buckle, black socks, black or brown brogue shoes and a necktie with the CU logo.

Females must wear white a shirt long enough to cover the hips and thick enough not to be transparent, with pleats on the back, decorated with metal buttons with the CU logo and a CU badge on right chest. The skirt has to be black or blue with white, brown, blue or gray shoes that cover the heels.

Punishments for infringements range from conduct points deductions, summoning parents, and suspension for 1 or 2 semesters up to expulsion.

The uniform regulations in CU differ from faculty to faculty. In some faculties, students are allowed to wear their own clothes to class, depending on an agreement between teachers and students or with the consent of the teacher. However, students still have to wear uniforms to exams.

“By the afternoon, at about one o’clock, a Student Affairs teacher came to look for me at the patient clinic, wanting to talk. ... The main thing that we talked about was that what I did was only my personal opinion. They did not prohibit expression. But I must not forget that there are the CU regulations, the Chula rules. If we do not follow them, it will be against the rules. The teacher suggested that there is the issue about the image of being a dentist, being a doctor. That was what they were worried about,” said Champ.

Champ and Pok in uniforms, the interview took place several days after Champ had his conduct points deducted.

Champ asked the teacher back about what needs to be done in order to have a free choice of clothing. The teacher answered that a majority opinion needs to be collected and passed on to the university executive members to consider, a method which he found very impractical.

“The teacher asked that we are undergradutes, like in dental school, so we should work for the honour of the institution by wearing proper clothing, undergraduate clothing. Finally, the teacher said that it is the rule anyway.”

Champ is now reluctant to wear his own clothes to the Faculty again as he is afraid of possible further deduction of conduct points.

Clothing should be more free

Although one of them had conduct points deducted, their actions became quite well-known among the dental students, according to Champ and Pok, due to the small number of students. Conversations over uniform regulations began here and there around them. Some agreed with what they did and some preferred wearing the uniform so that it was not so hard to choose what to wear.

“Actually, I want the administrators, or those who are involved, or Students Affairs to address this issue more about why the kids expressed themselves this way. I want them to see the problem of whether compulsory uniform wearing is useful or not. Or whether the good image of dentists that the dentistry teachers talk about is something made up,” said Pok.

This December, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a student activist and CU political science student who became well-known almost a decade ago when he and his friends successfully rallied for freedom for school student haircuts, started a campaign for the free choice of clothing to exams using the hashtag, #ใส่ไปรเวทไปสอบ (#Wearyourownclothestoexams).

The Rights Protection and Democracy Promotion Division of the Political Science Student Council, of which Netiwit is President, conducted a poll over the choice of clothing to exams. It found that 90.9% of 300 surveyed people agree with allowing students to wear their own clothes to exams.

Putting this idea into action is harder as students are at risk of not being allowed to enter the exam room. Champ, Pok and Ploy wore uniforms because of this risk.

The three said they put more hope in those who have graduated and come back as teachers to pave the way for a freer choice of clothing and other issues as undergraduates are bound by the regulations and punishments that can affect their education.

“I have talked to some teachers, some teachers who are modern in their ideas, who think that in the preclinical period, kids in the 1st-3rd years who have not got to year 4 and not yet met any patients, the teachers think we should wear our own clothes.”

“Another teacher talked straightforwardly. They seem to agree with many of the new generation’s standpoints. They think that currently, power and setting rules are still under the old generation. If we expect them to change in a couple days, it’s not going to happen, and I understood that it won’t happen. ... They warned me to calm down,” said Pok.

“There was a teacher at the Faculty who dyed her hair because she wanted dyeing hair not to be against the Faculty rules. And now the juniors in the Faculty have started to dye their hair yellow,” said Ploy.

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