A teenage vegan has forced her college to back down after she took a course in animal management which involved a trip to an abattoir.
Fiji Willetts, 18, says she enrolled on the course after reading it was “great for people who love animals” in the college prospectus.
But she was soon devastated when she found out it included a module on farm husbandry – including working on a farm and possibly visiting an abattoir.
The vegan of four years claims tutors at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College said skipping the unit would result in an “automatic fail”, although the college has since denied this is the case.
The animal lover claims she was told she could alternatively leave the college or enroll on another course.
Worried a fail would scupper her chances of going to uni – but unwilling to study raising animals for food – she turned to “vegan rights advocates” for help.
After numerous complaints, she’s been told she can do a “more suitable” module instead.
Fiji, from Downend, Bristol, said: “I am vegan because I love animals, so to attend a farm where I would be supporting a farmer would be wrong.
“I would have been denied a college education.
“I couldn’t simply break my way of living purely to pass a course.
“I hope I can now be an example to other vegans so they don’t have to go through the ordeal I went through.”
But after enrolling, she discovered she had to take and pass, a module on farm husbandry – the branch of agriculture which focuses on raising animals for products.
Students were expected to attend working farms and a slaughterhouse visit was also discussed, according to the Vegan Society, which supported Fiji’s claim.
Fiji started suffering with anxiety and raised concerns with her tutor, but was told she had to complete the module or fail, the society claims.
She submitted a formal complaint to the college, which maintained a substitute module was not available, it is claimed.
A similar complaint was issued to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), who supported the college.
But the case was escalated to the awarding body for non-compliance with equality law, and college tutors finally changed their minds.
Five months after the start of Fiji’s claim, they have agreed to provide “a more suitable module” for her to complete at the college in Filton, Bristol.
The 2021 prospectus for the BTEC course says it is “Great for people who love animals, want a career within the animal care industry, are passionate about conservation and the countryside, like hands-on work and varied responsibilities and like being outside in all weathers.”
The college website says the one-year programme has units including “animal biology, animal health and husbandry, work-related experience, and breed development and welfare, as well as animal feeding and accommodation”.
Fiji said: “I’m quite a quiet person so didn’t tell many people about my struggle with this case.
“I just told a few friends who have been quite supportive.
“Whilst I was still ‘fighting‘ it, I didn’t want to openly share it with everyone in my class, as I am aware of the backlash and negativity that vegans often face.
“I really wanted to keep things quiet until I had actually succeeded to avoid as much negative attention as possible.
“Whilst most of our lessons have been online because of the pandemic, the days where I have been in college have felt quite awkward and I haven’t been shown any support.”
Jeanette Rowley, vegan rights advocate at The Vegan Society, said: “I’m delighted Fiji was able to stay at her college and continue working towards her diploma.
“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.”
Sara-Jane Watkins, College Principal of South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, said the college ”made every effort to explain” the module in question was a ”holistic and well-rounded programme”.
She said the college ”acted to reassure FW (Fiji), and her parents, that the unit had been ethically planned” and that the course has the ”highest regard for animal welfare”, would not have ”disregarded FW’s beliefs” and ”she would not be expected to undertake any activity with which she was uncomfortable”.
The statement said she was told she ”could opt out of all or some of Unit 19 if she so wished” and she was offered the option of another unit, although she was ”encouraged to do so because of its usefulness to the local economy”.
Sara-Jane said Fiji ”would never have failed as she has stated unless she opted out of unit 19 and didn’t study an alternative”.
The principal also said she failed to ”respond to any of our formal correspondence or efforts to reach out”.
Over the past decade veganism has exploded in the UK.
According to one study there were 150,000 vegans in the country in 2014, with that number quadrupling within five years.
According to the Vegan Society, more than 10 million pigs, 15 million sheep, 14 million turkeys, 15 million ducks and geese, 982 million broiler chickens, 50 million ‘spent hens’, 2.6 million cattle, 4.5 billion fish and 2.6 billion shellfish are killed in the UK each year.