The dress code conundrum

Student unions at two universities share their experiences and opinions on mandatory uniforms

The use of school uniforms has been an ongoing debate as many universities in Thailand still have rules requiring students to wear them. In response, students have initiated campaigns requesting uniforms be made non-compulsory.

The Political Science Student Union under Chulalongkorn University (CU) posted on its Facebook page recently that it encourages students to express themselves through outfits they feel comfortable wearing. The Student Union is ready to make changes to create a free and equal society as well as break gender boundaries created by university uniforms.

Krittapas Chedjaroenrat, president of the Political Science Student Union, said it wants everyone to know uniforms create gender boundaries.

"University uniforms stipulate students to wear attire according to their birth gender, which is limited to only male or female. However, students may not identify as these genders, so to create a society where everyone has equal rights, there must be no segregation. It is each student's right to dress the way they want," Krittapas said.

"CU students have been taught to be proud of their uniform since it was bestowed by King Rama V. The university cultivates this value to make students feel that they are more elite than others, which should not happen in our society," he added.

While the Political Science Student Union encourages students to dress independently, the Student Development Division of Chiang Mai University posted on Facebook: "I am a pride of CMU. Chiang Mai University students wear their uniforms properly." The post includes photos to guide students on how to wear uniforms properly. The post received many negative comments from followers. The most liked comment sarcastically says: "University rankings have nothing to do with uniforms."

Atchara Sriplakich, director of the Student Development Division, explained that "I am a pride of CMU" is a part of regular orientation, which has been running for three years, to welcome new students during the start of the new semester. Atchara said the post did not only receive negative comments but there were positive comments as well.

"The most liked comment is a personal expression of an individual and students are free to express their opinions. The Student Development Division also received many positive comments about orientation from parents, students and others through messages, phone and other channels. They were excited about being CMU freshmen and asked where to purchase uniforms. We did not receive only negative feedback and we are open to all feedback," Atchara said.

Both CU and CMU have uniform rules which stipulate how to dress appropriately with shirts, blouses, pants, skirts, socks, shoes, buttons and belts. These two universities also have uniform violation penalties. If CU students violate the uniform rules, their behavioural marks will be deducted. CU students will be suspended after their fourth and fifth dress code violations and will be expelled for their sixth dress code violation. According to CMU's dress code regulations of 2012, students who deliberately violate uniform regulations "will be subjected to disciplinary action(s) according to student disciplinary regulations and procedures".

Despite having strict dress code rules, Atchara said there have not been any CMU students punished for uniform violations.

"CMU students dress properly, so they are allowed in classes and exams. Besides uniforms, students also have shirts they wear when attending workshops. The staff at the Student Development Division have never received any complaints from lecturers that students are dressed improperly," said Atchara.

The situation at CU is different from CMU. In December 2020, Krittapas and almost 200 CU students of the Faculty of Political Science did not wear uniforms for an examination. As a result, these students received warning letters from the vice-president of Student Affairs. Although those 200 CU students faced punishment for violating the dress code at the exam, Krittapas said many instructors are not strict about uniforms in the classroom.

CU’s Political Science Student Union encourages students to express themselves through clothes. (Photo: facebook.com/smopolscichula)

"It depends on which faculty the student studies in, but I have noticed that lecturers at the Faculty of Political Science, the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Communication Arts are not very strict. Some lecturers are not happy with students who do not wear uniforms in their classes, but students have not received punishment for that," Krittapas said.

The first paragraph of CMU's regulation regarding student uniforms from 2012 says the purpose of uniforms is for the students to be dressed in a neat, organised and appropriate fashion, so as to be respected and accepted by society and bring dignity and pride to themselves and the university. Atchara said the paragraph explains the reason for having a university dress code.

"Students in CMU uniforms are accepted by society. I personally think wearing uniforms helps students not worry about choosing what to wear. Also, there will be no comparison among students and CMU uniforms are affordable," said Atchara.

Some comments on the internet disagree with students who do not want to wear uniforms. They ask what these students will do if they have to work in companies which require employees to wear uniforms. Krittapas said that being a company employee is different from being a student.

"Unlike employees, students pay tuition to study and universities are educational institutions. These academic establishments are supposed to allow students to have freedom of thought," said Krittapas.

In 2020, the Political Science Student Union conducted an opinion poll regarding uniforms from students of 20 faculties. The results revealed that 91.5% of respondents are in favour of uniforms, but non-compulsory. However, in 2022, the student union has yet to revisit the issue.

"Comments in the poll provided reasons to cancel the requirement of wearing uniforms. Female students said buttoning the blouses was difficult and took too much time. Also, women had to spend more money than men on their uniforms because there are specific types of blouses and skirts required by the regulations. Students who study sports science also said their uniforms are not comfortable for certain activities. We sent the results of the poll and all the comments to the president of CU through the Student Government of CU, but there was no response. The challenge is that the administrators have never listened to what the students want, but we will organise a campaign again with more information to support our cause," said Krittapas.

‘I Am A Pride Of CMU’ is part of Chiang Mai University’s orientation. (Photo: facebook.com/sddcmu)

Not only do the administrators at CU face a student movement, but CMU administrators will also have to deal with the movement of the CMU Student Council which has conducted polls to cancel dress code regulations. However, Atchara said she was not surprised by the poll.

"The poll was not a surprise because each generation is different. In today's digital age, students express their opinions frankly. The poll does not question only uniform regulations, it also questions gender-based dress codes. At CMU, we meet at least once a month to exchange opinions between the student council, the student unions, the student development division, administrators and the president. We work with students, so we listen to them and discuss to find a compromise," said Atchara.


Do you like the content of this article?
  COMMENT  (25)