Vice Presidents’ Report – Week 8, Sem 1, 2016

The University of Sydney stands on the stolen lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. Although we hear this phrase often in obligatory acknowledgements of country, it is worth pausing and reflecting on what this really means in the context of our learning and our relationship to the University as students.

The academy in general, and USyd in particular, are implicated in long histories of colonialism. Disciplines like anthropology and human biology were integral to the colonial project, legitimising discourses of Aboriginal people as ‘noble savages’ with inherent biological differences to white Europeans. Botany and agricultural research played a pivotal role in establishing settlement in Australia, providing the knowledge and techniques necessary for foreign crops and livestock to be grown here. The knowledge produced in academic disciplines is not politically or socially neutral – it is created to fulfil specific purposes dictated by larger realities of structural racism. As students, we should learn and remember this history.

Despite the lip service paid to ‘diversity’ and ‘cultural change’ in the University’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, university management is not sincerely committed to supporting Indigenous students. Gutting almost half of the units comprising the Indigenous Studies major last year indicates the University’s lack of support for Indigenous education. DVC (Indigenous Strategies and Services) Shane Houston’s decision to fragment support services for Indigenous students, moving them from the autonomous Koori Centre to the general Student Services Centre, undermines the history and value of the Koori Centre as a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Creating safe spaces and providing support for Indigenous students within an institution that has historically marginalised and excluded them takes a lot of hard work, and does not happen overnight. It is the task of students, as well as university administration, to foster a safer environment. You can join the group Students Support Aboriginal Communities, who work on various issues in Sydney and around the state to provide funds and support for grassroots Indigenous projects. Keep up with the great work the Indigenous Collective is doing through the SRC. Think about how your studies can challenge, rather than support, the racist legacies of academia; and always remember that you are walking on Aboriginal land.

Vice Presidents’ Report – Week 4, Sem 1, 2016

It was incredibly inspiring this week to see hundreds of staff and students attend the ‘No Faculty Mergers, No Cuts’ rally, and march from Eastern Avenue to the Vice Chancellor’s office in the Quadrangle. The program of reforms proposed by university management behind closed doors includes vicious cuts to the range of degrees, loss of administrative jobs through the merging of faculties, and hikes to student fees, making education even less accessible to low SES students and other minorities. I would like to commend the Education Action Group for their hard work in organising this rally, and I hope that the student body will put similar support behind the upcoming National Day of Action on April 16 to fight the neo-conservative federal agenda to deregulate the university sector.

In the spirit of free and equitable education, representatives at the SRC are continuing to organise the inaugural Radical Education Week, which will be held in mid Semester 2. We’re very excited to create a program of skillshares, workshops, talks and film screenings to promote peer education around progressive issues, and to foster greater solidarity between different SRC collectives and the broader student population. If you have a keen interest in decolonisation, Marxism, ecofeminism, environmental justice, or any other radical theme under the sun, get in touch at radeducationweek2016@gmail.com! We’d love to hear your ideas for workshops and incorporate them into our program. Keep an eye out for our Facebook page, which will be up soon.

Vice Presidents’ Report – O-week 2016

It’s been an exciting summer beginning my term as Vice President! After the chaos of NatCon in December, it was great to meet all the other members of the Executive and embark on what I hope will be a very productive year in the SRC.

Last November in Honi, Subeta Vimalarajah and I published an article about anonymous marking, and the various biases that can arise from students’ names being attached to their work. Our campaign continues this year: after we met with various academic staff to discuss the value of an anonymous marking policy, the university has now commissioned a working group to investigate the viability of such a policy. I am passionate about ensuring that students’ work is marked fairly, and that staff are held to the same standards of academic integrity that are demanded of students.

Another project that I’m very excited about for 2016 is the organisation of the SRC’s. Inaugural Radical Education Week for Semester 2. Like Rad Sex & Consent Week, the week will have a student-organised program of talks, workshops, film screenings and skillshares.  We want to strengthen engagement between SRC collectives and the broader student population, and promote free knowledge-sharing between peers. If you have ideas for workshops or events that you’d love to see at Rad Education Week, or would like to get involved in organising the week, get in touch — radeducationweek2016@gmail.com.

Getting everything ready for O Week has been busy, but it’s a very exciting time for the SRC — a great opportunity to meet new students and spread the word about all the great things the SRC does. Make sure you drop by our O Week stall to pick up a bag full of goodies and say hi!

Vice Presidents Report – Week 1, Semester 2

You must have set a new record. You’ve found the netherpages of Honi Soit in the first few days of semester. Congratulations. How are you?

If you’re reading this – unless you’re on a misguided search for the puzzle pages (~in some ways, you’re already here~) – you are, if not already a seasoned old-timer circling the drain of academic eternity (welcome!), now a proverbial ‘big name’ on campus. You’ve been at USyd at least one semester, you’ve survived (or, even, flourished) – and a motley crew of new students start in your place. These students will be wandering around our sandstone labyrinth with a bewildered look and a chaotic schedule; and, with your freshly minted ‘experience’, it’s easy to forget that you were, once, a lost soul walking out of an Access tent; or at a lonely desk in a tutorial.

Predominately, students starting at this time of the year are with non-typical pathways – such as mature age or international students. I know I’m often caught carelessly in a little cocoon of luck – ignoring how lucky I am to be at University at the age I am, with the few difficulties I’ve had in my life, with the education I had already gained prior to USyd – and in the safety of that cocoon, complain relentlessly about my tutorial partners’ perceived incompetence; or mock other students who dare to ask questions in lectures. These assessments we make are by no means ‘equal opportunity’. We target these at those with we identify with difference: and we justify it as lighthearted, as purely harmless. But now that you’re back – with all the stature your semesters’ past accord you – you can take those throwaway lines, and their underlying attitudes, seriously. You don’t need to burn an effigy to be that Marxist radical your parents worry you’ll become: realise carefully your own privileges, and talk with students from different backgrounds. Not as a sideshow or as your ‘pet-project’, but as a way of understanding – and, maybe, you can play a small part in ensuring their first semester is just as successful as yours.

Daniel Ergas

Vice President’s Report – Indigenous edition

There’s a page on Facebook called ‘USyd Rants’. True to its name, it is an anonymous clearinghouse for the disenchanted and disillusioned. It is a strange psyche: its currency of approval, likes, ensures that the opinions widely liked are widely shared. Its anonymity ensures unpopular posts disappear without any criticism directed to their author, and successful posts flourish – with their creator, inevitably, accepting accolades from an adoring Facebook public.

Hundreds of rants are posted each day: from tediously specific condemnations (“[t]o the people sitting in the back third of the room in BUSS1030 on Tuesday afternoon”) to strangely generic commentaries on life (“Is God Dead?”, a question I can only imagine was posed either by an extraordinarily angsty teen or a second-year Philosophy student seeking ad-hoc essay help).

Unfortunately, its coverage doesn’t end there. Safe in its namelessness, USyd Rants is a petrie-dish for the self-declared ‘disenfranchised’ to sound off on feminism (“fuck feminism!” is a regular contribution), international students (“Stuck with ANOTHER international student in my group, FML”), and even Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (“Lazy fucking Abos near Redfern, stop barking at me”).

For this Indigenous Honi, I thought it was important to reflect on this unique form of discrimination. Comments that are – in any other context – vile and unacceptable – comments we would never attach our name to – can be shared quickly, freely, easily, with no harm to personal reputation whatsoever. Discrimination – whether it is subtle or even unconscious, or anonymous and caustic – is real and entrenched.

Gendered violence is at crisis-point; international students are routinely exploited, and promptly abandoned, by our own University; and the Redfern Tent Embassy faces imminent eviction. You don’t need to look at ‘USyd Rants’ to see it. I wish you did. I want to believe that these ‘rants’ are rare and repressed; reading this Honi, I fear that they are not.

Thank you to Madi McIvor – the editor of this Honi, and my brilliant co-Vice President – who has slaved for weeks over this edition: it is uncomfortable, illuminating, and shocking at all once. Sometimes we need to be. I hope that you, too, realise that this – the way we consider, think about, and treat others – must change.

SRC Vice President – not happy with the reactionary bipartisanship in our Asylum seeker policy

It’s now been 118 days since Christmas. As a good, Jewish boy, you may not have expected this nativity commentary from me. This is not from any newfound religious awakening (cue disappointed Rabbis worldwide), but to emphasise a broken promise.

Scott Morrison, in the midst of a coercive rhetorical kidnapping of a hapless cross-bench, committed to taking all children out of detention by Christmas. A little, merciful compromise wrapped in abhorrent, archaic legislation.

And yet, there are still 227 children in detention centres. 103 on the remote, lawless Nauru. How can this be? Offshore detention centres are no place for children. Or people.

I wish there was at least a little contention about our treatment of asylum seekers, instead of a quiet, reactionary bipartisanship. I saw a small bit of what that contention could look like at this past Sunday’s rally for asylum seeker rights. And yet, not a single major news organisation covered it. These, the same bureaus that report on asylum seekers almost academically, an ethnographic study in inhumanity. I’ve met so many people in just the past week that care deeply about other people’s rights, albeit in different ways: from the presidents of Faculty Societies, to the executives of SUSF’s sporting clubs, to everyone at the rally. I know that these are people who together will stand up for refugee rights. It is only a matter of time.

118 days is a really long time. To be honest, I know very little of the man born in a manger. But from what I do know, He, too, was a refugee.

Look at all that’s happened in the short span of two weeks: our humble PM has consumed two raw onion

Look at all that’s happened in the short span of two weeks: our humble PM has consumed two raw onions (that we know of, that is: others, privately consumed, are as of yet unconfirmed, but I trust The Garter to keep us well abreast of this topic); a former PM (who was, unfortunately, little known for his prescient stance against apartheid), and outspoken advocate for refugee rights in his later years, has passed; and, much to the disappointment of a strange assortment of PMs, yet another bill to deregulate our university sector has floundered in the Senate.

With all that in the foreground, it does not seem that my scrappy, little report is of much relevance. And it’s not. This split ink is rendered worthless. Worthless, that is, without you reading it: interrogating my work, challenging my assumptions and priorities, and thoroughly critiquing my biases. What is relevant—and what I’ll endeavour to do in each piece of mine in Honi—is to make sure you understand what I’ve been doing, where it’s going, and why.

That accountability, and its closely-tied buzz-word of ‘representation’, has been my focus for these past weeks. As I type this, I’m quickly learning the intricacies of Google Spreadsheets, creating a table of all campaign commitments all elected SRC Councillors made, such that we can work collectively to agitate and achieve their goals; spreading the knowledge and advocacy-work of the SRC beyond its Executive. I’m eagerly reconstructing (or, more aptly, resuscitating) the Faculty Societies’ Committee. Composed of all of the Faculty Societies’ Presidents, this is an exciting new opportunity to engage faculties (especially those under-represented in the SRC, ie. all non-Arts faculties) more closely in the work and advocacy of the SRC. I’ve also been working closely with the International Students’ Officer in conducting a review of the SRC’s operations in the International Students’ Lounge in the Wentworth building, and the efficacy of our bookshop. My most exciting project, however, is—undoubtedly—the awareness-building campaign (and associated video) I’ve been working on with the Cumberland Intercampus Officers.

That’s a bit of a laundry-list for you: and there’s so much of each project left to do. This doesn’t need to be a spectator sport, so please contact me any-time at vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Vice Presidents Report

Hey. I don’t quite know how you managed to stumble upon this lonely spread of unread reports from your Student’s Representative Council, but, now that you have, welcome. In these pages for this year, you’ll find a collection of students who are—for sure, imperfect and embarrassingly, commonly fallible—but all of whom are genuinely committed to your student experience, and to the experiences of those not lucky enough to attend our leafy, sandstoney campus. And, hopefully, long after I’m gone from these pages, it’ll be a little less difficult for you to navigate Sydney administration; a little bit easier for you to attend and access all of our university’s opportunities; and a whole lot tougher for this university’s management, and our government, to ignore you. It’s incremental – and it’s not always gripping, or immediately successful – but it’s the efforts of those who organize, collaborate and fight injustice that change and impact political systems. You need not be a hardened political activist, or an anarchic rebel since conception. You can join an SRC collective to get involved with only a few clicks. And you only need to contribute where and when you feel comfortable and safe, and only to the degree that you are able. There is no special activist hierarchy – or a prize divined for whoever is the roughest, strongest, or longest devotee. If we are to fight at our best, it is when we are inclusive and diverse; not divisive and derisive. After all, Back-to-the-Future as an O-Week theme is remarkably relevant – as we are confronted by archaic, divisive, and unjust approaches to contemporary issues in government. This is from the looming specter of fee-deregulation – dredging up the system of decades ago, in which your education was predicated simply on your background—to the offshore detention and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers—indefinitely imprisoning foreigners, purely based on their means of arrival. O-Week is over—and while you still may oscillate between intoxication, induced by fermented grapes, potato-based ethanol and fruity, fruity cocktails, and insomnia, induced by assessments and extensions and everything in-between—spare what you can to fight for a fairer future; one that we won’t feel embarrassed going back to.

We read the Murdoch press. A horrible, horrible mistake.

I made a huge mistake this morning.

A horrible, horrible mistake.

I read an article published by the Murdoch press.

Yes, nothing good can ever come of this, but while I was reading about the recent symposium held by the Australian Human Rights Commission on Free Speech, it popped up on screen and I couldn’t help myself. Needless to say, it was a bad decision and I spent the next 20 minutes hiding in the supply cupboard at work screaming next to boxes filled with Papermate pens. When I finally returned to my desk, I was greeted by Christopher Pyne’s sneering face on The Bolt Report ranting that students are leeching off tax payer’s dollars while a clip of Tony Abbott was rolling in the corner. Keeping in line with this spectacular morning, I am now waiting for Joe Hockey to strut through the doors demanding my first born child.

Now, this “Free Speech” forum was called in response to Abbott and the Attorney General George Brandis’ now thankfully dropped amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act which reads that it unlawful to: “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of their race or ethnicity”.

The draft bill would have removed the protections for offending, insulting or humiliating someone based on the assertion by Abbott and Brandis that this law stifles free speech, with newly installed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson also voicing his support for the amendment. These changes have come up against very vocal opposition from Labor and the Greens, human rights lawyers and over 80% of the Australian public – even Liberal MPs threatened to cross the floor. If this isn’t a testament to the ridiculousness that would have been changing 18C, then nothing is. Conservative journalist Michael Sexton has written numerous articles for the Murdoch Press in support of repealing these protections with an ever present theme of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.

Why would these repeals have been so dangerous? Claiming that free speech should allow individuals to be able to say whatever they please, regardless of the harm and trauma it may cause, is opposed to international human rights law and the slightest amount of common sense, decency and courtesy. It completely ignores individuals’ rights to not be vilified or discriminated against because of their race, gender, class, sexuality or religion. Wilson claims that equality can only be reached through the repeal of Section 18C and he is disappointed the repeal is not being pursued, but in what world does repealing laws against discrimination and hate speech produce equality?

Despite the fact that we think repealing these protections against racial vilification under the guise of ‘free speech’ is absurd, it is easy to see how these upper class, heterosexual, white cis-males think it is a logical decision.

Max Hall and Laura Webster have things to say

Max Hall and Laura Webster have things to say and want somewhere to say them.

If there is a talent that every politician, administrator and rising member of an organisation’s middle management has to have it’s the ability to talk without saying anything.

For every article written and protest held about the changes to university fees (you know: deregulation, larger fees, probably fewer university places and a bonus hike in your HECS debt) Sydney Uni has responded with promises to consult and reason their way through an approach to the changes. This is great. Truly. If deregulation is to become a reality, then a process of consultation that prioritises the interests of students is our best chance of securing changes to fees that minimize the impact on students, particularly those from groups already marginalized in the education system.

But there is a significant difference between talking about consultation and actually doing it.

The announcement last week by the university senate of a town hall style meeting in response to calls for a convocation is a positive first step towards including all groups of the university community in deciding what to do about fee changes. Including current students alongside graduates and staff members is a sensible move on the part of the university. However, there is good reason to be concerned with the lack of detail accompanying the announcement. To make the meeting more than a publicity presentation from the powers at be, students, graduates and staff need an equal ability to speak and argue to that of the university administration. Relinquishing the moderation of the event to students or staff would be an ideal step to ensuring that discussion is meaningful and legitimate.

On that note, a single meeting is not enough. If they are to fulfill their stated desire to consult widely and reasonably with students then there needs to be greater access to the vice-chancellor and his views. Ideally this first forum would lead to several more and the university would establish a means of making written submissions that students and student organisations could expect to be publicly responded to. Without comparable measures the universities lip service to consultation will remain just that.

This is the view that we’ll be taking to the university in the coming weeks, hopefully resulting in a series of opportunities for you and anyone interested in saving public education in its current form to meaningfully influence the machinations of the university machine.

In the meantime, come to the NDA and stay angry.