A Mass Exodus from “Mass Exodus”

Photo by Morgan Bocknek

Mass Exodus, meaning “a mass departure”—such a romantic and grand phrase—is the perfect name for the fashion show and exhibition that displays graduating fashion students’ collections and capstones. The annual event is legendary for Ryerson, and the fact that it is the “world’s largest student-run fashion show” has a certain sense of accomplishment that impresses people.

The production is organized by third-year students in fashion communications and creative industries, but not for much longer for creative industries students. The students will quite literally have an exodus from the course, but not in the same celebratory fashion as the graduating students— rather because of tensions between the school of fashion and school of creative industries. What began as a beautiful partnership is now unraveling.

Let’s rewind to fall 2016, when the fashion promotions class had an enrolment glitch on RAMSS. According to faculty from creative industries, the class size was reduced, some people were enrolled in the course and others were taken out. The whole situation became a storm of confusion among all parties involved. Due to the demand for a seat in the class, ultimately not everyone could be enrolled for the 2016-2017 year. This left some students disappointed and others furious.

An online petition began in opposition of creative industries students enrolment in the class. Amanda Ho, third-year fashion communications student circulated this petition in an effort to get the attention of faculty in the school of fashion and make changes. Eventually, more students were added to the course, but soon after, there was an agreement between the two schools that creative industries would no longer participate in the course. It was a significant decision that was made behind closed doors, a sneaky way of preventing the error from reoccurring. But was it really the best decision for future students?

For creative industries students, there is a great deal of sadness in the final decision. This year’s head of design and brand for the production, Ashlie Luthra, is a fourth-year creative industries student disappointed by the school of fashion’s decision. However, Luthra is fully empathetic of the difficult position the school made to keep the fashion communication students happy.

She says, “I don’t necessarily think that withdrawing creative industries students from the class was the best decision to make, as fashion as an industry has struggled with creating an inclusive environment for all. Shutting a segment out seemed like a step in the wrong direction.”

“Not everyone working in the fashion industry comes from a fashion background. The addition of creative industries students into the fashion promotion class was reflective of what is happening in the industry,” she says. As a creative industries student, she takes Mass Exodus seriously, and she has gone the extra mile by taking courses and earning industry experience prior to enrolling in fashion promotion because she wanted to make sure she was fully prepared as a leader in this year’s production.

Chair of the school of creative industries, James Nadler, is looking towards the future, saying, “Sometimes when you have to solve a problem, things can end up even better than before.” He explains that next year, creative industries students in the fashion industry module will have two new course options similar to fashion promotion.

The addition of creative industries students into the fashion promotion class was reflective of what is happening in the industry.

First, creative industries students can take another course offered by the school of fashion called “Fashion Event Planning.” It is similar in that it is about fashion shows and events, however the scale of the production is nowhere near comparable to that of Mass Exodus.

“That’s how you build your career, is not necessarily by having the big resources and the big canvas, but having a smaller canvas and you have more authority and more flexibility and responsibility,” Nadler says. He shows a great deal of optimism about the future opportunities for creative industries students, but it is too soon to tell now whether or not it is merited. He also added that, “Just because it isn’t happening next year, doesn’t mean we won’t revisit this and I do plan to revisit this. Things do change and sometimes they change back.”

The second option for future students will be a brand new course offered by the school of creative industries. The course will be called “The Big Night” and it will give students the opportunity to organize and execute the creative direction of a live event, but details on the nature of this event are still to be determined by the school. This course may not be focused necessarily on producing a fashion event, but it will give students the opportunity to make the event in their ideal image rather than following past procedures like the similar courses offered.

On the other side of the spectrum, third-year fashion communications student Brianna Collins is a member of this year’s content coordination team in the fashion promotion class. She says, “It really is a tough problem to solve and I think they made a drastic decision but I don’t necessarily think it was the wrong one.” She believes withdrawing the creative industries students from the course is not the best solution, but also thinks fashion communications students should take priority with enrollment over everyone else.

Collins says that when the two programs work together well in class, it is seamless and no one thinks about which program each person is from. She mentions that there were tensions in the beginning of the school year with creative industries landing executive roles and admits many fashion communications students do not know anything about the creative industries program.

This may explain why many fashion communications students have felt entitled to seats in the class, as they do not perceive creative industries students as students studying fashion, which is not the case. If the creative industries students taking the fashion industry module were not qualified enough in their upper years to participate in the course, the university would have never allowed them to participate. The students had the opportunity to enroll in the course because they took fashion courses in their first and second years, which prepared them to take the next step with fashion promotions.

Assistant professor Henry Navarro, one of the co-instructors for the fashion promotion course, says that this was the best decision that could have been made in light of enrolment technical issues. He says it also safeguards the fashion students’ interests, which are the school of fashion’s first priority.

Although this entire situation was sparked from students’ anger, Navarro says the final decision was not made based on emotion, but because of “the structures and protocols of Ryerson University’s enrollment office.”

Navarro only had good things to say about having the creative industries students in his class for the past two years, saying, “I do believe that creative industries students are very valuable because they bring a practical understanding to the business of event planning that is both relevant and useful for the production.”

“[The] acts are that registration to the course is beyond the control of either the fashion or the creative industries departments,” Navarro says. “This creates many opportunities for enrollment mishandling, such as what happened in the fall.” Perhaps there could be a discussion in the future about having the creative industries students involved again in the production.

The final decision was not made based on emotion, but because of “the structures and protocols of Ryerson University’s enrollment office.”

One of those many impressed people that I mentioned earlier before included myself. I am in my fourth year of studies in creative industries, soon to graduate. Mass Exodus has been a big part of my undergraduate career. I have written articles about past productions, modelled in the show and worked as head of stage and show for the 2016 production.

When I discovered Mass Exodus while researching universities in tenth grade, I became obsessed with it and the irreplaceable learning experiences I would have from being in the class that produces it.

It was just my luck that the brand new creative industries program would be able to participate in the production of the show. When it came down to deciding to enroll between fashion communication and creative industries, I wanted to enroll in a program where I would specialize in both the arts and business, without sacrificing my affinity for studying fashion.

The fashion promotion class made a profound impact on my life, and when I learned that future creative industries students would not be able to take the course, I was offended and heartbroken. I thought of students who might have been like me, going in with great expectations of all the possibilities Mass Exodus and creative industries would bring them and being left to decide what they want more, to be in creative industries or fashion communications so they can participate in Mass Exodus.