Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design photo

Katelyn Sorensen a second year PhD merchandising student (left), Adria Renee a first-year master's material culture and textile student, and Anna Kuhlman a second year master's material culture and textile student screen print shirts to raise awareness of budget cuts to the fashion department in the basement of the Human Sciences Building on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As a young girl from Papillion, Katelyn Sorensen was touring the University of Nebraska-Lincoln years ago, struggling to envision her life here. She never thought the campus would be her home. After determining that Nebraska wasn’t the place for her to continue her education, she toured the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design in the Human Sciences Building on East Campus. Prior to her visit, she didn’t even know the program existed. However, after touring, she could see herself potentially growing in the department, and she changed the course of her college career.

Seven years later, Sorensen is now working on her second year of the doctoral program for merchandising. Sorensen also works as a graduate teaching assistant at UNL. 

Chancellor Ronnie Green sent Sorensen, along with students throughout the university, an email the morning of Sept. 3. Along with other budget cuts, the email stated the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design within the College of Education and Human Sciences was facing elimination. This would include both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Sorensen said that, although she was shocked by the email, this isn’t the first time it’s been proposed while she’s been studying at UNL. Unlike the earlier proposals, they were faced with a harsh reality.

“It’s always been on the chopping block for years,” Sorensen said. “I remember sometime it would be up on the chopping block, it would be talked about, but nothing ever happened. But this time, it was official.”

The gravity of the situation didn’t come to Sorensen until she had to teach her first class after the announcement.

“We received the email just like the students did at the same time early in the morning. It didn’t really hit us much. Once I had to go and teach my students, it was just kind of this awful gut feeling,” Sorenson said. “I don’t know how I would’ve dealt with it as an undergrad, and they’ve been pretty strong about it.”

Sorenson said students weren’t actively learning as much anymore and were gloomy after the major events.

“The next week was just kind of a rough week for everyone,” Sorenson said. “Now we’re starting to get our momentum back.”

Since the announcement, Sorenson said the students and teachers have begun to rally together to save the program they know and love. They’ve started a petition as well as reached out to the media. The graduate students have been creating shirts in their screen printing lab that read “#SaveUNLTextiles” to pass around and spread awareness about the elimination. She also said that those who have been teaching classes have been distributing a guide of ways for students to help spread the word. 

“We’re just rallying together and trying to fight it. We’re not going to go down easy,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen and other students and staff have been writing letters to senators and congressmen, along with sharing social media posts in an effort to reverse the decision.

“I just really hope that we can save it because I have spent seven years in the department, and I want others to have the same opportunities that I did,” Sorensen said.

If the university continues with the elimination, Sorensen said some prospective students will have to find other states to attend college as this is the only textiles, merchandising and fashion design program in Nebraska. She noted that many of her alumni friends came from Texas, Colorado and California among other states, specifically for this program.

“It would be horrible for Nebraska,” Sorensen said. “There’s a lot of students who go through Omaha Fashion Week or take those home economics sewing classes in middle school and high school and want to continue.”

Sorensen said that, just as she was unaware of the program, many don’t understand the different elements of the college.

“There’s this stereotype that our department is just sewing, and it’s way more than that,” Sorensen said.

TMFD students learn textile science, color science, sewing, buying, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, digital merchandising and trend analysis, among other things.

“It’s more than just making clothes,” Sorensen said. “There’s a lot of research and time put behind it. We learn the whole process.”

Melisa Spilinek, a graduate research and teaching assistant, said she was also hesitant about attending UNL before visiting the campus. Coming from Kansas, Spilinek said she wanted to come to a school that had more resources than a large school like New York. 

Spilinek remembers the summer day when she first came to visit the college. She said there was only one professor working in his office.

“He heard us in the hallway and poked his head out,” Spilinek said.

The professor asked if they were on a tour, to which she responded she was. He quickly volunteered himself and said he would show her around the college.

“I just liked immediately that faculty were really willing to work with students and devote the time a lot of larger institutions can’t give to students,” Spilinek said.

After getting the announcement that the department was facing elimination, Spilinek said she was in disbelief. The day after was filled with continued shock and panic. She said she knew quite a few people who had to seek emergency counseling.

“This was very, very sudden. No one came and talked to us. It was just an email sent out that affected around 130 people’s lives automatically,” Spilinek said.

She said that she wished the university had called the students in for a meeting or put some heart into their statement.

“If you read the statement, it’s quite cold,” Spilinek said. “There’s just not a lot of empathy in it.”

In the weeks following, Spilinek said the program’s staff have been analyzing enrollment, what the program contributes to the economy and everything else they can think of in preparation for the Academic Planning Committee hearing.

The hearing will take place on Zoom on Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. Students who want to make a statement can sign up for 5 minute slots to voice their opinion.

“We’re feeling quite good. We feel we’ve done our research,” Spilinek said. “We have not a single reason that we can think of why we would be eliminated other than a poor economic choice.”

Spilinek said the elimination of this program would remove the opportunity for future Nebraska students who could bring strength and flair to the state’s fashion horizons.

“If we eliminate this program, we’re getting rid of the options for so many people. The talent will leave Nebraska, and they will never come back,” Spilinek said.