Fiji Willetts said the one-year animal management course was only advertised as ‘great for people who love animals’ and are ‘passionate about conservation’.
A Bristol-based vegan student has won a discrimination case against her college after she was told that a unit on farming was mandatory and opting out would result in an ‘automatic fail’.
18 -year-old Fiji Willetts is currently studying for her BTEC National Extended Diploma in Animal Management at South Gloucestershire college.
According to the teen, she took up the one-year diploma – advertised as ‘great for people who love animals’ and are ‘passionate about conservation’ – as a stepping stone to a university course in wildlife management, zoology, or conservation.
However, she later found out the course also included a module on farm husbandry, which focuses on raising animals for meat, fibre, milk, eggs, or other products.
The curriculum also included attending working farms to help the farmers and possibly visiting an abattoir.
When Willetts, who has been vegan for 4 years, discussed her ethical concerns with her course tutor, she was told that an alternative module was unavailable and skipping the unit would result in an ‘automatic fail’.
She could, however, enroll on another course or leave the college.
Complaint against discrimination
With no resolution in sight and unwilling to undertake a unit incompatible with her beliefs, Willetts approached Jeanette Rowley – the Vegan Rights Advocate at The Vegan Society.
Together they submitted a formal complaint to the college, which maintained that it was “unable to remove unit 19, Farm Livestock Husbandry, from the curriculum or substitute it with another unit”.
They issued a similar complaint to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) who also disagreed with the discrimination claims.
Finally, only after the case was escalated to the awarding body for non-compliance with equality law, was Willets allowed to choose a “more suitable” module instead.
‘I am vegan’
“I couldn’t simply break my way of living purely to pass a course,” Willetts said in a statement.
“I am vegan because I love animals and so to go against my beliefs and attend a farm where I would be supporting a farmer would be wrong.”
Recounting the five-month struggle spent in resolving the dispute, she said she kept details of the case under wraps because of the lack of support and the possibility of ‘backlash and negativity that vegans often face’.
“Without Jeanette’s help I would have been denied a college education. I just hope I can now be an example to other vegans so they don’t have to go through the ordeal I went through,” Willets added.
‘A really big win’
“I’m delighted Fiji was able to stay at her college and continue working towards her diploma,” Rowley said.
“This was a really big win for Fiji, and for the vegan movement.
“Education providers have a duty to be inclusive and must do everything they can to remove any disadvantages faced by vegans.
“There is an urgent need to assess the approach taken to teaching students about nonhuman animals and the way they are treated.”
Responding to the claims levied by Willets, a college spokesperson said: “The College has made every effort to explain to Fiji Willetts that the unit was chosen with the intention of delivering a holistic and well-rounded programme that both meets local need while also enabling learners to progress onto the next stages of their education.”
According to the college, while the unit was not only ethically planned it would have also been delivered to the highest possible standards and with the highest regard for animal welfare.
It also claimed that Willets was never forced into studying any unit she was uncomfortable with and that she could opt out without any consequences if she so wished – something the teenager disputes.
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