Students are entitled to protest against the mandatory dress code, but the rule serves, among other things, to reduce class differences
A campaign launched by Thammasat University students against the mandatory uniform has sparked a debate on freedom. A provocative poster showing students in uniform in sexual poses got the attention not only of the university’s management but also the public. Students say the uniform requirement impinges upon their freedom and contradicts the university’s own stand. The dress code, they say, is an insult to their intellect and locks them in a socially constructed moral standard.
The students certainly have a point in terms of freedom of choice. But the proponents of a mandatory uniform take a different stand. Wearing a uniform, they say, makes all students equal. There is thus no difference evident between rich and poor. The uniform is also easy to identify, and thus helps protect students and maintains a certain standard. It’s the same for other people in uniforms, like police, soldiers, security guards, nurses, doctors and airline crewmembers. These arguments, however, fail to convince the anti-uniform students.
There is no doubt that, in most situations, the freedom to wear what one likes is an undeniable right. Nevertheless, such a right is not absolute, like the right to life. Freedoms can sometimes be restricted, and any statement of rights is not absolute and must necessarily be subject to limitations. Freedom of speech and expression does not extend to defamation, slander or obscenity. Likewise, the exercise of one’s rights is interrelated with the rights of others in society.
Whether you are conservative or liberal, enrolling in a university puts you on an equal footing with others to enjoy the rights and privileges that a student’s life can bring. However, it also involves an element of duty to comply with rules and regulations. The same applies in wider society, where one has to follow public and workplace rules. Smokers have to puff in designated areas in their workplace in order to respect the rights of non-smokers. There are restrictions in every facet of our right to freedom.
Rights and responsibilities walk hand in hand, and a graduate student might enter a career that requires him or her to wear a uniform. This doesn’t have to be a shackle, as portrayed in the student campaign posters. Uniform and other dress codes might not be the best idea in terms of fashion sense or freedom of expression, but they exist for a reason. Doctors, policemen and soldiers don’t campaign to be released from their mandatory dress code. What if police officers shed their uniforms? Would we be able to identify them in any given situation?
There is nothing wrong with the students expressing their opinion, but perhaps the effort and energy spent on this advocacy could be better spent on other causes that could benefit society as a whole. Being forced to wear a uniform in a class might be restricting, but it also denotes a sense of identity and equality.