Fiji Willets, an 18-year-old vegan college student from Downend, Bristol, has won a case against her college after she was told she had to take a module on farming or fail the course.
Fiji is studying for her BTEC National Extended Diploma in Animal Management which was advertised in the college prospectus as being “great for people who love animals”.
However, after enrolling Fiji discovered she had to take, and pass, a module on Farm Husbandry - the branch of agriculture that focuses on raising animals for meat, fibre, milk, eggs, or other products. The course includes day-to-day care, selective breeding and the raising of livestock for the purpose of gaining meats, milk and eggs from those animals. Students were also expected to attend working farms to help the farmers.
Fiji, who has been vegan for 4 years, started suffering with anxiety and during national Mental Health Week, brought up her concerns about the course with her tutor but was told she would not be given the opportunity to study an alternative module and that skipping the unit would result in a automatic fail. She was told to leave the college or take another course.
Unsure whether it would affect her chances of being accepted into University at the end of the year, Fiji reached out to Jeanette Rowley, Vegan Rights Advocate at The Vegan Society.
Together they submitted a formal complaint to the college. The school stated it was “unable to remove unit 19, Farm Livestock Husbandry, from the curriculum or substitute it with another unit”. Following this, a similar complaint was issued to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) who also disagreed with the discrimination claims.
The case was escalated to the awarding body for non-compliance with equality law which intervened, and the college has now, five months after the start of Fiji’s claim, agreed to provide a more suitable module for her.
Commenting on the case, Fiji said: “I couldn’t simply break my way of living purely to pass a course. 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.”
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.”
Jeanette Rowley added: “This was not only a really big win for Fiji but for the vegan movement in general. Vegans in the UK have the protection of human rights and equality law and it is vital that schools and colleges understand that they are under a statutory duty to examine how their educational policies and practices might have a negative impact on vegan students. They must do everything they can to remove any observed disadvantages faced by vegans.”
“I’m delighted Fiji was able to stay at her college and is able to continue working towards her diploma.”
Veganism is protected under human rights and equality law in Great Britain. I
Education providers are under a legal duty to be inclusive and aim for a critical, plural and objective teaching and learning environment. To create an inclusive environment for vegans in education, there is an urgent need to assess the approach taken to teaching students about nonhuman animals and the way they are treated.
The Vegan Society provides vegans with support and legal advice. You can read more about here: What rights do vegans have? | The Vegan Society.