HAPPY GO LUCKY: Students have freedom to dress casually at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus when they aren’t sitting for exams.
Thammasat University has long been known for its liberal attitudes. It has a legacy of being involved with political protests in which students played major roles in the 1970s.
The campus’s lifestyle is an example of a laissez-faire attitude.
Among examples is the student uniform policy. While students in other universities are required to observe uniform dress codes, Thammasat only requires students to wear uniforms on examination days and commencement ceremonies.
In classrooms, it is normal for students to wear various casual clothes such as gym suits, tight pants or even pajamas.
However, some Thammasat University students believed their uniform dress code is not casual enough and there are still restrictions on their freedom of choice.
Early this month, Thammasat University’s Student Council sent a letter to the rector, asking the university to scrap the rule that requires TU students to wear uniforms for exams and commencement ceremonies. It was the second letter since October.
The letter was leaked and has gone viral in social media. The issue renewed fierce debate on the uniform dress codes — a topic that has been hotly debated in Thailand where most students are required to wear uniforms.
The rector this month acknowledged the letter. However, he did not give a commitment either way, according to Sunattawit Wattanapon, the acting president of the Thammasat University Student Council.
Mr Sunattawit said the student council’s proposal to scrap the rule is designed “just to test the water” and described the campaign as an attempt to “change the social structure”.
“Uniforms are symbolic of the battle between adults and college students,” Mr Sunattawit said. “In Thailand, the reform has been brought about by the elite from top to bottom. Nevertheless, our idea shows that we can think for ourselves and the campaign might catch on elsewhere.
“We are not banning uniforms, but proposing to remove the regulation and give our students a choice to wear or not to wear them on those two occasions.”
The campaign was initiated last year by Dome Revolution, a student political party.
The campaign managed to gain momentum after the party launched an online petition, prompting the council to write letters to the rector.
Mr Sunattawit explained the regulation is “unnecessary” because Thammasat University students dress casually on a daily basis.
“It is our environment. We normally wear T-shirts and shorts to attend lectures. Sometimes, my friends go to seminars in pyjamas,” Mr Sunattawit said.
According to Mr Sunattawit, a dress code can be an impediment.
“The problem is the rule, not the uniform,” he said.
“For example, one student, on the big side, ripped his slacks in the crotch on an exam day.
“He returned to his dorm, but he could not find any spare slacks because he has only one pair of trousers. He decided to wear jeans instead. However, he was not allowed to sit the exam because he did not wear a proper uniform,” said Mr Sunattawit, who was wearing a proper uniform during his interview with the Bangkok Post.
Critics might raise red flags over the campaign for fear that college students who flout tradition will fail to adjust to post-university life.
Mr Sunattawit explained both scenarios are different. “We are paying tuition fees to the university. On the other hand, companies hire us to work for them after we finish university. As a result, they can require us to wear uniforms. We have to follow their rules because we receive money from them,” he said.
Parit Chiwarak, a member of Dome Revolution who initiated the campaign, questioned the purpose of the regulation on uniforms because the rule is not related to education.
“Nowadays, education should allow people to learn skills by trial and error. Allowing us to decide what to wear is one of them,” he said.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
Parinya Ruengchatoensuk, a student at Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, said the faculty of education does not strictly enforce the regulation on uniforms, but urges students and teachers to find common ground.
Although his university allows flexibility, Mr Parinya said his seniors expect students to dress appropriately for occasions. “They are preparing us for the future. Most of us will become teachers, so we have to work in the bureaucratic system and set a good example for students,” he said, before adding that being tactful is a key factor in the issue.
Meanwhile, Peerawich Jitnarong, a student at Bangkok University, said his campus does not strictly enforce the rule on uniforms. So he wears casual outfits to class, but dresses formally for special events. “I understand that the faculty is preparing me to cope with the workplace regulation in the future,” he said.
For Mr Peerawich, a uniform code is a trial to prepare students to learn about compromising to live in the outside world. “For me, appropriateness lies between what I and society expect,” he said.
Sirikul Boonraksa, director of the Student Affairs Division at Thammasat, said the rule is enforced for safety because it can help the university screen and protect students.
“We are asking their cooperation when it comes to exams and ceremonies. Uniforms can help our staff maintain safety to a certain extent because we can distinguish our students [from outsiders] more easily,” she said.
Ms Sirikul said she has been exasperated by the uniform issue. “I am not asking students to wear uniforms every day. For the most part of the year, they can dress casually and properly. Why can’t we meet at this point?” she lamented.
Ms Sirikul also warned that students who dress casually sometimes risk exposing their bodies and become victims of harassment. “In the past, females were harassed because of the way they dressed,” she said.
“I know it is a different issue, but we are trying to protect you as best as we can. If there is danger, who will help you?”