Welcome to the University of Sydney, Australia’s most prestigious administrative nightmare. My name is Liam Donohoe, and I’m the 92nd President of the USyd Students’ Representative Council.
The SRC will be a useful and essential companion throughout your time here. We’ll be there to offer useful advice when you’re having troubles with University administrative process, like getting some extra time to finish your assessments, making sure you’re enrolled, getting the University to recognise study at other institutions, and anything else in between. We’ve also got a free legal service, so if you’re having trouble with parking or traffic offences, drug or criminal matters, or issues with migration, your tenancy, or your workplace, we can help you out. Over the year you’ll probably also see our other publication, Honi Soit, the only weekly student newspaper still printed in this country (and the best!), and by the end of the year we’ll be running our new food bank, which will provide free food to students in need.
But the thing for which we’re most famous is our activism. We’re a student union, meaning we bring together and advocate on behalf of students on all sorts of matters. We’ll work with the University if we think they’re genuine about making the changes we want to see, but we’re also happy to hit the streets to register our dissent publicly and adversarially where we think it’ll help. But we don’t just stop at student rights or student issues—we advocate for all the oppressed, not just because many of them are students, but because we have the power and therefore duty to make a difference. I’m sure at some stage during your Uni days you’ll see us on Eastern Avenue raging against the machine—all are welcome to join.
Before I sign off, I wanted to offer a few pieces of advice. Though we’re always growing and developing over time, your first 5 years out of high school / at University are often a time of significant transformation. You will see, in the first instance, a transformation of your mind. You’ll have more information at your disposal than ever before, and you’ll develop sharper critical thinking skills. But, as great as those things sound, you’ve got to ask yourself, do you really want to be here? Do you have to be? We’re constantly made to feel as if University is an essential prerequisite for a happy life; the truth is, often the opposite is true. Only you can know if Uni is right for you, but if you’re feeling uncomfortable there’s no shame in asking yourself whether it’s right for you.
But if you do think it’s right for you, then push your learning as far as your capacity will allow you. Most of us are paying for this education in one form or another, and I regret every lecture and tutorial I’ve missed. At risk of sounding like a teacher, 5 years of Uni has taught me you’re better off handwriting notes, starting assignments when you get them, and constantly asking questions—but try not to take up too much space, especially if you’re a cis-male. And try to see if the library has your textbooks before forking out hundreds of dollars on them!
The second transformation you’ll be undertaking is a transformation of yourself. You will have all sorts of new experiences. You will feel greater elation ever before, but also greater loneliness. You will have moments of liberating freedom and self-expression, which will be cut down by feelings of alienation and mediocrity. You will start to take up more responsibility, experience new loss and disappointment, and even start to notice yourself ageing. Your personality will undoubtedly change in the process. But all in all, the coming years have the potential to be the greatest of your life; with care you can manage the lows and maximise the highs. For one, the SRC is here for you whenever you need us—email email@example.com and our professional staff will do their best to help you out.
But beyond this, there are things we can do to help ourselves and our friends, and many of these things are essential and inherent duties of being an adult. The advice here is cliche, but wise in that way only cliches can be: make to do lists and track your obligations, push yourself to exercise, eat well, and get a decent amount of sleep, and try to impose some semblance of structure onto your life. I implore you, as much as possible, to channel the change and adversity around you into something you understand; to ensure that you are always growing and becoming a more complete version of who you want to be. This isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’s the single hardest thing any of us have to do, and the fundamental challenge of our lives, particularly for those oppressed by our society. But it’s a task that life will force onto you if you don’t get to it first, and one that will transform you into an adult. It’s up to you whether you become the adult you want to be.
There is one final transformation you’ll be a part of in the next 5 years—that of the society in which you and your university are embedded. For one, your personal or intellectual growth is totally inseparable from the world around you; you have no choice but to be in the world. But it the relationship is not one-way, but a feedback loop, though we may forget it. There is a lot about this world that needs changing, and students are well-placed to achieve it. We stopped conscription during the Vietnam war. We pushed back against cultural norms and oppressive structures, and have achieved some relief for the oppressed. We succeeded in our fight for same sex marriage, to stop fee deregulation, and to make Universities own up to endemically sexist cultures. And this year we will continue this rich tradition, mobilising to transform our University to make it work for students, to transform society to make it fairer, and—most visibly—to create a system which allows our planet to survive and the humans on it to thrive.
You are most welcome to participate in this transformation with us, and in the process develop your mind and intellect in the very way I outlined earlier. Feel free to reach out to me or the SRC at any time, whether you need our help with your transformation, want to help us transform the world, or just need someone to talk to.
Students' Representative Council, University of Sydney