Drugs and depression at demanding Antwerp design school 

A suicide at the elite Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts raises serious questions about the rigorous program. Student stories of depression and drug abuse have shocked the public.

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
Drugs and depression at demanding Antwerp design school  - NewsMavens
Academie voor Schone Kunsten, WikiCommons

Why this story matters:

Antwerp is known for its fashion. Do you know Dries Van Noten, or Martin Margiela? The Royal Academy of Fine Arts is the prestigious school they attended. But while we're all very proud of our designers, we have apparently remained ignorant about the school itself. Stories of intense work pressures and a stressful atmosphere have only emerged after a student committed suicide three months ago.

Anonymous stories about student life published following the suicide have shocked the school and observers. They are stories of drugs, depression, and racism. 

As a result, the school gave "De Standaard" permission to take a look inside. The following article (link at bottom) is an in depth look into the daily lives of two students who insist that they need a rigorous approach to excel.

The school director Johan Pas has assumed responsibility for the school's flaws and promised to look into the program. 

Stories of unbearable pressure

  • On March 22, students of the fashion department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, led by famous designer Walter Van Beirendonck, were notified of the suicide of a third-year student from South Korea.
  • Over the next weeks, dozens of (former) students testified anonymously about the enormous work pressure that "leads to mental depression and then drug addiction in order to keep up". Others simply decided to quit their dream of studying there because it was unbearable. The website Business of Fashion (BoF) revealed these stories.
  • The stories called the school's teaching methods into question. That is new, since the department has a sterling reputation: in BoF's Global Fashion Schools Rankings, it places in the top 3.
  • In a statement responding to the allegations, school director Johan Pas said: "This tragedy has given added weight to some of the slumbering criticism against the institution -- which, like every other school has its qualities and its faults". 
  • The article by "De Standaard" follows two third-year students who are  shocked by the suicide but question the image that has been created by the anonymous stories. 
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