Fahad Ali writes about police violence and queerphobia

You may have noticed the full-page colour ad for the Marriage Equality rally in the previous edition of Honi. A few weeks ago, I pushed for it to be included, but just before the deadline, in an abrupt volte-face, I fought to have it removed. Unfortunately, it was too late for such a drastic change.

You may be asking why. I am a staunch supporter of marriage equality. I’ve been involved in planning the rally, and I’ve organized the USYD contingent. Why would I attempt to do something in direct opposition to the movement?

I believe there are more pressing challenges facing the queer community than marriage equality. For instance, homophobia is still rife in schools, queer youth suicide rates are absurd, and the prevalence of anxiety disorders is disproportionate; highest in trans* people at 50%, and lowest in gay men at only 25%, compared to 14% in the general population. This is something even queer politicians are reluctant to tackle. For instance, the self-proclaimed gay messiah, Alex Greenwich, fails to recognize the troubles faced by the queer community beyond marriage equality. In fact, when I spoke at the Mardi Gras community forum earlier this year, his very abrasive reply was to inform me that the police brutality at Mardi Gras was not targeted homophobia.

In my first report, I wrote, “…the countless cases of targeted police violence and unwarranted strip searches throughout and after the Mardi Gras is a clear indication that there is a systematic queerphobia ingrained within the police force.” I stand by my position. Queerphobia, racism, and sexism have deep roots in the police force. If we are to eliminate this culture, we need to hold police to account. A multi-pronged approach involving direct action, demanding for an independent investigatory body for police, and calling out not just queerphobic but all police violence, is the best way for our community to proceed.

What happened at the last staff strike is abhorrent. Riot police brutalized students and staff for resisting management decisions in a peaceful, lawful, protected industrial action. I will not go into specifics: Honi has already published a number of articles by students who were the victims of police brutality. But I will point out that resisting this violence is extremely relevant to the queer community. If the police can’t get away with attacking one community, they will find it difficult to get away with attacking us.

The reason I tried to have the ad removed was to give the publication more space for material on police violence at the picket lines. It’s important that student voices are heard. The student body needs to come together to condemn police brutality on campus. I don’t believe this is an issue of politics; one can disagree with the claims of the NTEU and CPSU and still call for the Vice-Chancellor to rescind his invitation to the police. This is a matter of human compassion and decency. We will not have students and staff attacked on their own campus by violent thugs.

To the staff and students on the picket lines: the queer community is right behind you.

Hannah Smith gives us the Pro-Choice rundown

RU4 CHOICE?

There is a group on campus attacking women’s reproductive rights. Don’t let them misinform you about YOUR choices. Misleading health information has no place on campus. Women deserve to understand the risks and benefits involved in all decisions they make about their health.

Recently, a pamphlet was distributed by a club on campus that purported to explore the ethical, social and medical challenges of the RU486 drug (commonly known as the ‘abortion pill’). The distribution of information about women’s reproductive health by a group with a pointed ideological agenda completely undermines the right of women to feel safe and included on this campus.

The Women’s Collective has decided to take action. We don’t want to see discourses of women’s health being dominated by those who seek to marginalise our autonomy. We have decided that the best way to rectify this is through pursuing a more transparent and honest discourse on women’s reproductive and sexual health. We have recently distributed a flyer with accurate information about RU486 and are looking to host forums on women’s health.
Support reproductive choice at Sydney University

The availability of RU486 in Australia has only one major implication: expanding the number of options available to women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. If you support women’s reproductive CHOICE, spread the word and like our page on Facebook: ‘Pro-choice students of Sydney University’ for more information on how you can be involved.

If you are pregnant
If you are pregnant when you had not planned to be, it can be a very uncertain and emotional time. There are several options available to women facing an unplanned pregnancy. For some women the decision will be clear, while for others it may be a difficult choice to make. You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings and your options with people close to you. These resources can help to support you and provide information about your choices:
http://www.childrenbychoice.org.au/
Family Planning NSW: http://www.fpnsw.org.au/
Pregnancy support helpline 1800 422 213; Health line 1300 658 886

 

 

The Student Environment Action Collective updates us on enviro activism

Welcome to the Student Environment Action Collective (SEAC)!

There is plenty of excitement this week in the Environment Department because we have found a space for our community garden! After sneakily building a guerrilla garden on Eastern Avenue and after a long time negotiating with Uni admin we’re ecstatic to see this finally happening! We’re excited to be working with the Centre for English Teaching and the USU Food Coop to bring together domestic and international students by building and maintaining a community garden. This will strengthen our campus community through sustainability education. There are huge opportunities for sustainability education to show people how to work outside of corporate food production. Gardening is also great for mental health. We hope that the space can be used for all sorts of groups to run workshops and hang out.

Examples of student community gardens abound. ANU, Monash, Wollongong and CSU Wagga Wagga all have vibrant garden spaces run by students and for students.

If you’re keen to help out planning and building the community garden then you should totally get in touch! https://www.facebook.com/groups/usydcommunitygarden/ or come to a SEAC meeting every Wednesday at 12pm on the Sunken Lawns next to Manning. And find us on Facebook or at www.sydneyunienviro.org.

SEAC is also planning an awesome trip to Tasmania in the July holidays. This year Students of Sustainability (SOS) will run from the 5th to 9th of July at the University of Tasmania, Launceston Campus. Come hang out with three hundred students fighting for environmental justice! Sounds like a great way to warm up the winter holidays.

The program is looking awesome! Focusing on campaign success stories, practical skills and workshopping current campaigns. Workshop submissions are welcome and due by Friday 17th May. We are also planning to go on a mass roadtrip to the Tarkine forest afterwards with local forest campaigners and the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN) to help stop the clear-fell destruction of old growth forest in order to mine the area for fossil fuels. We’ll also visit the Florentine and other key sites for the endangered Tasmanian Devil.

Don’t miss out, register now and get your transport sorted. Subsidies are available from both the conference organizer and from the SRC, so don’t miss it because of money issues. The SOS crew is also offering financial help to first-time SOS-goers.

Find out everything you need to know on the website: www.studentsofsustainability.org. It’s organised by the Tasmania Uni student enviro collective and the Australian Student Environment Network, so it is by students and for students.

Coming Up:
You are invited to our discussion night on Thursday 30th May at 5pm in New Law 115. Pop it in your diary: How to be a Good Ally: Indigenous Solidarity in the Environment Movement.

Are the staff really striking AGAIN? asks Casey Thompson

Yes. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) are taking further industrial action on June 5 2013. As before, it will be a twenty-four hour strike, and pickets will be at every main entrance from 7am. Many students have expressed that they’re annoyed and angry at the continued industrial action, but to let you in on a secret – so are the unions. Staff, whether academic or general, don’t want to have to continually take industrial action for their basic rights. Every day a staff member strikes they don’t get paid. Therefore, you can imagine that this is amounting to a lot of lost pay, and a lot of rent, grocery and medicine money foregone.

Sydney University staff are in the tertiary education profession because they love researching and helping students learn. Every day they strike is a day they don’t get to do this. No one particularly enjoys industrial action, and in an ideal world it wouldn’t be necessary.

However, it is unfortunately continually necessary at Sydney University as Michael Spence refuses to grant staff the basic conditions and pay levels that they require to successfully carry out their professions. Spence can afford to deliver an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) that does both of these things. Sydney University has a $93 million surplus. Therefore, even with the federal government funding cut of $45 million to Sydney University, Spence is still left with $48 million in savings to improve staff conditions and the quality of education that our institution delivers.

Please don’t go to class on the 5th of June, and even consider joining your staff and fellow students on the picket lines. The more successful this strike is (i.e. the less students that go onto campus and thus the more it brings the functioning of the university to a halt for the day) the more seriously Spence will take the unions’ EBA demands and the unions themselves as key stakeholders at the bargaining table in the future.

Therefore, the more successful the strike the quicker Spence will be at meeting the unions’ demands and industrial action will not be required in the future.

The primary purpose of this industrial action is not permanent disruption to the university, or to your education, it is temporary disruption that will help create a better quality education for all students in the long term.

Please consider sacrificing one day of your education to save your whole degree.

Bad working conditions for your staff mean bad conditions for your education. Please help us demand the quality education we deserve.

Dylan Parker stresses the importance of the upcoming federal election

Now the elections are over I can firmly say that nothing focuses the mind on the long term health of student associations more than having to stand up in front of people and justify why we exist and they should vote.

While I am both happy with the result and even happier the damn thing is over I have this uneasy feeling that we as students reps are tip-toeing around the elephant in the room. Student associations don’t operate in a vacuum divorced from society or greater politics.

As I’ve mentioned in the past student democracy is vital to healthy organisations, however the choice that matters most for the quality of your support and services may not be one decided by USYD students at all but by everyone else on September 14.

Along with David, as General Secretary it is my role to look after the long-term financial health of this organisation and to make sure that we keep providing amazing services. However, in order to survive we are financially dependent on the University funding us with money levied from the SSAF. The long-term financial reality for the SRC is that if elected Abbott will devastate our income. We know that repealing the SSAF is in the Liberal DNA from Howard taking a pole- axe to student associations with VSU. We survived VSU only because of the beneficence of the University continuing to fund us at historical levels. However, having already seen their cash drive through staff cuts and the EBA negotiations I am not so optimistic about that happening a second time around.
Students appreciate our SRC and the services it provides. However, nothing in life comes for free.

The reality is that deep down the Liberals do not believe in funding student associations. If you care about the long-term health of your SRC then what happens on September 14th should matter to you.

David Pink talks federal politics

We’re halfway through the year now, so I thought it was time to make myself accountable to you and detail some of the things you can look out for the SRC next semester.

We will be organising a bigger and better SRC stall at Re-O-Week, so that you can have a chance to sign up to the SRC and grab a free SRC bag. We’ll also be going hard on defending staff conditions, and help put pressure on the University administration to give staff decent conditions.

I will also be following up with the police Ombudsman the allegations of police violence against students at last week’s strike. On a less exciting note, the revamped and user-friendly SRC website is now up and running – soon we’ll be adding to it regularly updated SRC reports from the office bearers, minutes and agendas for council and executive meetings.

The SRC Breakfast Bar will also be up and running. Free breakfast for students who often can’t afford to eat is something that we really prioritise. I’ll also be working with LPAB diploma students to see if there is a way to improve the quality of their teaching, which is really not very good.

I will also be working closely with the University to try and guarantee that there is affordable and quality student housing available. I will be organising to meet with office bearers to make sure that they have campaigns to run next semester.

One of the SRC’s biggest problems, year after year, is that the flurry of activity of first semester subsides into the hugely draining SRC elections. Hence, I am going to work with office bearers this year to make sure that second semester is a time of activity and vibrancy for your student union.

The biggest surprise of the year so far was Gillard’s Higher Education cuts of $2.8 billion. As a member of the Labor Party, this has put me in the awkward position of organising demonstrations with the National Union of Students against the policy of a government I have been spending my evenings and weekends tirelessly campaigning for. But I hope you would all agree that I have done my job well, and haven’t let you down because of my political affiliations.

Eleanor Morley reports on threats to student welfare at the picket lines

Last Tuesday, I witnessed one fellow student have their leg broken, another held in a choke until they began to go limp, and another fall beneath a crowd and subsequently trampled for I can’t remember how long.

Were these the injuries suffered by students crossing the picket line on strike day?

No, they were injuries incurred by students holding a peaceful protest to defend the rights of their teachers. And who was the cause of these violent assaults? The riot police, who were invited onto campus by our very own Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence.

I believe it is the duty of the management of our university to protect the welfare of all students. Yes, including those who may disagree with the actions management are currently taking. Michael Spence can have no justification for putting the health of his students at risk. What did he expect was going to happen when he invited a squad of burly, thuggish riot police itching for a fight, onto campus?

Surely, one would assume that in order to require the presence of riot police, there would need to be some sort of, well, riot. Or that the wellbeing of those at university would be at risk. However, the actions of staff and students on the picket line was far removed from the accusations of violence, and in no way comparable to the brute force used by the police and riot squad. University management is not interested in protecting the welfare of all their students, but instead protecting themselves from criticism of their woeful Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

What has been perhaps even more shocking than the violence I witnessed last Tuesday has been the reaction from a small, but vocal group of students. To claim that a broken leg is an adequate punishment for calling someone a scab, or non-violently preventing them from entering the University is absurd.

The way in which this minority of  students has reveled in, and congratulated the violent actions of the NSW riot squad has been not only shocking, but incredibly damaging to the mental well-being of both those who were the target of police violence, and their friends who witnessed it. I urge those students who are publicly congratulating the violence to please stop.

This Thursday the SRC will be staging a rally, beginning outside Fisher at 1pm, and then marching to Spence’s office to hold him to account.

Police violence on campus is unacceptable, detrimental to the welfare of students and should not be tolerated by our Vice Chancellor for any longer.

Shame on you, Michael Spence.

Eleanor Morley

 

It’s not okay to use racial slurs in poetry, writes Women’s Collective member Tabitha Prado Richardson

Two weeks ago, the women’s edition of Honi Soit published a poem which misused the ‘n word’ in its original spelling, and used it along with an extended metaphor that alluded that women’s position in contemporary society is similar to the position that black slaves held in the United States. I am a woman of colour, I identify as black and I have African slave heritage. To see this word being misused by someone who has no connection to this history, and no right to reclaim the unimaginable suffering that came along with it, upsets me deeply. For someone to believe that it is analogous to anything outside the experiences of black people upsets me deeply.

Black slavery was a theft of a continent, of hundreds of cultures, of millions of people, and their common humanity. Black slavery was something that privileged women perpetrated. My sisters have not just become slaves, they were slaves only a few generations ago, and are struggling with that legacy to this day. Our African ancestry is stolen.

The poem’s inclusion reflects a deeper problem both in general society, and in activist circles. Generally in Australia, white people do not speak of race. They should. They should speak of whiteness and their privilege. They should work to acknowledge and dismantle that privilege. There is no such thing as being “colour blind”. Ideas of “cultural intolerance” and “religious intolerance” only erase the experiences of racism, based on appearance alone, that people of colour experience in Australia. And please don’t tell me that Australia doesn’t have a problem with racism, or I might have to point you to the entire history of the genocide of Australian Aboriginals and the continuing conditions that Aboriginal people and their descendants endure.

Or the history of indentured slavery of Pacific Islanders. Or the fact that the government signed out of the UN Refugee Convention a few days ago, being the first country to do so. Or the fact that Aamer Rahman gets hatred and vitriol just for calling white people, “white people”. Or the fact that no black models can get a job here (see: Ajak Deng, and notice that she is having far less trouble elsewhere). Or the fact that Mia Freedman will run to Delta Goodrem’s defense for laughing at blackface, calling those people of colour “mean” for being offended, despite not actually experiencing racism ever in her entire life. These examples all operate in the same system, upholding the same cultural ideas about race and ethnicity and reinforcing white privilege.

I think the clear problem here is that white people seem to think they know what racism is or is not, more than people of colour, which is exactly the same thing as men knowing more about sexism and misogyny than women, or cis people knowing more about transphobia than trans* people, or heterosexual people knowing what is and is not homophobic more than queer people. If you want to be intersectional, experiential knowledge is your friend. Listen to people and their stories.

Women of colour already occupy a tense position in white-dominated feminist spaces, alienated by the feeling of difference and compromise of anti-racism values. When white women in feminist circles talk about how men oppress them, it is awkward to think about the men of colour, queer, trans* and heterosexual, who have been subject to racism by white women. I want to liberate my brothers as well. White women have not always been our allies. Until it is truly intersectional, feminism shared between white women and women of colour is fraught with awkwardness.

The poem’s inclusion and the subsequent response was reflective of that. I feel I need to remind people that as Staceyann Chin said, all oppression is connected, and if you want to liberate some, you have to liberate all. I hope for better discourse and dialogue around racism and whiteness in Australia in the future.

Tabitha Prado Richardson

Appology

 

The Women’s Officers apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused and acknowledge that the inclusion of the poem was a very problematic oversight. We endeavour to create a safe space for all women in our Collective and have failed to do so in this instance. – Emily Rayers and Hannah Smith

 

Tenaya Alattas reports back on the police violence at last week’s pickets

Contrary to the media’s portrayal of the ‘scuffle’ between police and strikers, on the 14th of May, the riot police used excessive force, which was not commensurate with the threat.

This is not an isolated incident. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fear that the police would kill a student, teacher or community member was real: a head hitting concrete, a lung punctured from being squashed or headlocks evolving into strangulation were incidences of real violence which played out in front of my eyes time and time again. Sometimes the only thing marking the difference between the life or death of us picketing was the solidarity of the people who stood alongside you on the picket lines as we yelled, screamed and tried to grasp each other out of the vice-like grip of police repression. Yesterday I saw a police officer on King St and the powerlessness and hopelessness which enveloped me reduced me to tears, as I gasped for breath and shivered in fear and I realized the trauma they inflict upon me and my friends is not only manifested in physical symptoms.

And I know the VC will turn a blind eye. He has already testified to his ability to stand by idly as a student’s leg was broken, a staff member is suffering internal bleeding in her liver, and students were trampled on, beaten, bruised and emotionally traumatised. They will say how ‘scared’ the riot police (with their tasers, batons, and protective gear) had been by whichever (unarmed, unprotected, weaponless, often very young) protester. They will ban people from campus, engage us in lengthy court procedures and have the media (and social media) shame people.

But I know for a fact that those I work with in the SRC, in the EAG, Honi, Grassroots, SLS and SWA are made of stronger stuff, and the bonds formed at picket lines, however fracticious are difficult to erode.

We already have 500 signatures to ‘get cops off campus’; we will issue a formal complaint to the Ombudsmen; we will hold legal work-shops and support training for students suffering trauma; we also have an action planned for this Thursday, 1 pm at Fisher Library to show the VC we do not want police on campus.

More so we will work with the NTEU, CPSU and other unions and collectives interested in supporting ongoing industrial disputes at USYD.

The next strike is on the 5th of June and I urge you to come to the picket lines, to support our staff and importantly, to protect our democratic right to protest.

 

Dylan Parker updates us on how our SSAF money is being spent by the SRC

While the happenings of your student Office Bearers may not be the sexiest of topics but reporting what we get up to is definitely important when as an organisation we are funded with your money. So as much as I would love to make every report a musing on the merits of smashing the state or flying the flag of free markets as some do, it is probably worth updating you all on what I’ve been up to in the last couple weeks as your General Secretary.

Regarding the budget, in recent weeks David (Pres), Chitra (Admin Manager) and I have been putting together the budget attempting to transition the SRC through a $70,000 reduction in SSAF funding. In addition, the SRC is undergoing several staffing changes that will impact the bottom line and due to their fixed nature will the need to look at more discretionary elements of our expenditure.

Due to our staffing changes I have along with David been involved in several selection committees screening CVs, conducting interviews, and recommending applicants to Executive. Having been involved in several over the course of the year, I have consistently been impressed by the calibre of applicants.

As a progressive student association, I am glad we affiliate to the National Union of Students so that we have a voice at the table on a national level. Recognising that student interests are best represented when all student associations carry their weight rather than just a select few being involved, I have been negotiations with the National General Secretary of NUS in order to find a reasonable outcome for affiliation that will be pleasing to all groups  Left, Right, and in between.

As a requirement of our final instalment of the SSAF, the University has requested that the SRC formulate Key Performance Indicators for our departments. An ongoing process, while I am open to the use of KPIs I am cautious of their use by the University as an attempt to subvert our independence.