Simran opens up about her experience at UAL and she’s not alone in doing so. This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of the publication or of the GSU.
University of the Arts (UAL) is highly known for its name in the industry. It’s also known for its international students, who attend to make a name for themselves within the fashion field. The number of international students versus the home students was high, meaning the competition of being an outsider and fitting into the institution as a middle-class student is another story.
The institution is run on money and gaining credibility through international students and not allowing other students a chance to speak up. This is a problem throughout, from the dean to the lecturers and tutors. The proof is all on an Instagram (UALTruth), where the page is run to expose the discrimination by staff and other white students, and the ill-treatment for being a different class or race.
Throughout my years at university, dealing with discrimination did take a toll. It started out by realising how majority of the students were internationals, how all the professors were white and how everyone in class had their own ‘cliques’. During the holidays they would make plans and go to Premiere Vision in Paris, knowing that the rest of the class would want to come as it was an experience recommended by the university as a Fashion student to attend.
One of the main aspects is by far the white privileged professors and teachers within the institution. As an ethnic minority, the only ‘brown’ students were myself and one hijabi who just did not give a care in the world about the degree and just did it for fun.
The sample room tutor, a teacher to teach us how to pattern cut and produce clothing in class which was a practical lesson, was highly white privileged. He would look down upon my hard work on creating the same amount and quality of work as the rest in class, but always had something to say about it. At one point during a sample lesson for a critical analysis, he asked me about my background and if I was able to do a better job with the finishing on the garment. I saw no correlation to how my background had anything to do with my quality of work. This is when I realised there is something off here. During placement year, which is year 3, there was news that this particular sample room teacher had become the course leader.
I had developed immense anxiety and wanted to drop out of university or the course completely.
Thankfully, the placement year was just working within the industry as an intern and there was no in-person meetings with the course leader. (But the thoughts of him marking the final year assessment the following year to determine our pass or fail grades in the BA was nerve wracking). This tutor decided to take another opportunity elsewhere and left the job and his post, open for another course leader, who was much more open minded and didn’t make digs about my ethnicity, and allowed my mind to be at peace.
On another note, design studio lessons scared me. The design tutor was supposed to be the best, to guide us and send us to the right path for our collections, leading up to industry work and placement. There was this minor grudge held against me, for some reason that no matter what work I showed, it was shit.
It was not good enough but those that turned up late or had little to no work, were let off easily to go about their day and work on it.
I could sense the negative energy coming off from this tutor and it had bugged me for 3 years, and in my final year, I took it upon myself to visit a mental health advisor. This was a decision made with so much mind battling and I never told anyone about it. No friends, not my mother. The mental health advisor suggested it being a racist ploy, but I could not come to terms with that idea and instantly declined.
Then the pandemic hit, and everything had to be transferred online, so the anxiety of having to face this tutor had died down, yet the online classes and having to still produce work and show it amongst others in class, including him, did weigh in a little. At the end of the day, it was just the reflection of not being ‘good enough’, plus having to deal with being the only brown girl, from a lower socioeconomic area, in group of wealthy students, going to a local university.
I did my best at this place. And honestly, I just realised that UAL is simply just for the title and not the experience for those who have no wealthy background at all, or who fit within the criteria of either international or just privileged–which, for the staff there, is preferred.
UAL Truths: https://www.instagram.com/ualtruth/