David Pink calls on the VC to take responsibility for student safety on campus

Dear Michael Spence,

As you will no doubt be aware, a number of students were seriously injured during Tuesday’s protests.

One student had his leg broken. Another student is in hospital with fractured ribs and possible internal bleeding. Several students were trampled. Many others were shoved, grabbed, bruised or struck. These attacks on peaceful protestors were nothing less than outrageous. Another student was put in a potentially life-threatening situation when a police officer strangled him for nearly two minutes. He went without air for a minute and a half and has had to seek medical attention.

The danger with something like strangulation is damage to the hyoid bone, which is susceptible to fracture. It holds up the larynx (and therefore the entire breathing apparatus), and thus prolonged, forceful pressure against the neck is incredibly dangerous.

Asphyxiation is similarly life-threatening. Permanent damage from oxygen deprivation can occur within a matter of minutes. One and a half minutes without oxygen is a long time in terms of respiration, and cerebral hypoxia (reduced oxygen supply to the brain) begins to set in rapidly. The fact that a police officer was willing to put a student in such danger is absolutely unacceptable. The argument that the riot police bring order to the campus is transparently absurd, all footage and testimony shows that the police have been a force for violence and disruption. One student also came at risk of suffering an epileptic fit. Despite repeated requests the riot police refused to help them, which is a clear indication that the riot police are not there for our safety.

Students and staff of the university have every right to protest peacefully. We have never been violent. What’s more, students have every right to protest free from the fear that they will be targeted and needlessly attacked by riot police.

All of these assaults and indignities could have been avoided if you did not allow the public order and riot squad on campus. The university has the right to exclude police from campus, and in the past it was very rare for the police to come on campus for this very reason. We are terrified that a student will suffer a more serious injury than a broken leg next strike day. The riot police have been so violent that we are terrified that one of our friends will be killed.

We call on you, Vice-Chancellor, to take responsibility for the safety of the university community and cease inviting the public order and riot squad onto Sydney University grounds.

The 85th SRC Executive

Dylan Parker wants student associations for students

So normally I try not to stray into the overtly political with my weekly reports especially if we are talking on a topic as introspective as our decision making processes. However, this week a concern I think worth raising is the little problem Council has had meeting quorum this year. Now, I don’t want to name or blame any particular people because at different times we all have good and sometimes impeccable reasons why we can’t come. But when as an organisation we spend nearly $39 000 on elections for President, Honi Soit, and 33 Councillors it’s a little worrying that our meetings have hovered around 17 to 18 Councillors so far.

Last Wednesday for the first time in two years an SRC meeting was inquorate and unable to meet. The requirements are relatively straight forward; you need a majority of Councillors elected to be present, not including proxies in order to hold a meeting. I get that people are busy. I work two jobs, study, and do activism off campus in the evenings and on weekends so I expect others to miss meetings here or there. But when as an organisation we are continually on the brink of being inquorate then something must be up

Personally, I wouldn’t mind if we ran the SRC through its Executive. Having been a Councillor, an Ordinary Executive member and a General Secretary I can honestly say Council is presented with a skewed view of the SRC, missing so much of the service, lobbying, advocacy, and publication sides of our student association. In fact, the other side is why I am still involved in the SRC because our casework services, our publications, our lobbying the university, our second hand bookstore, our free legal service, and emergency loans matter to real students in real ways. The SRC should be for students who are struggling, not those with the means to use the SRC for their own pet political projects and campaigns.

Sadly, Councillors spend too much time arguing over frivolous ideological motions wholly unrelated to our welfare or education. Look, nearly everyone has non-student related politics Left, Right, or in between but if you want to argue over boycotting country X, condemning the Government for Y policy, or pass self congratulatory motion Z intended to somehow dismantle neoliberalism, start a club or join a political party. Our student association should be for students and low SES, Indigenous, queer, international, rural and regional, and female students just to name a few are all missing out because our Councillors may not be seeing the point of meetings they were elected to attend.

Emily Rayers explains the importance of choice

Last week the UNSW Student Development Council approved a UNSW branch of the anti-abortion ‘Life Choice’ club. This marks the 4th Life Choice club to hit university campuses in Sydney over the last 12 months under the guise of facilitating productive discussion around abortion and euthanasia, while soon revealing their harmful agenda spreading misinformation through their blog and Facebook page.

Last week, on our own campus, the Catholic Society put on a lecture called ‘Alternatives to Abortion and Contraception’ which offered no such alternatives (except abstinence, which has been shown time and time again to achieve nothing but negative health outcomes for populations given no other options). A few members of the Women’s Collective attended and were appalled at the misleading nature of the presentation.
As a university we are failing our women students* by wasting our time and resources arguing incessantly with one another about the logical consistencies of supporting abortion and reaching no consensus.

Too often this topic descends into vitriolic discourse and name-calling from both extremes. Too often well-researched effects of abortion on individuals and societies are ignored. Too often the information spread through social media, traditional media and seemingly reliable and well-intentioned sources is at best untrue, and at worst deliberately traumatising and hateful. Too often the hypothetical woman in the situation is forgotten, reduced to a uterus, and too often the situation is treated as a mere hypothetical when it occurs for 1 in 3 real, actual women in Australia at some point during their lives.
The vast majority of abortions are performed in weeks 6-12 of pregnancy and abortion after 24 weeks (often the focus of ‘pro-life’ propaganda) is rare and not performed unless medically necessary.  Legal, voluntary abortion rarely has a negative effect on previously healthy women, and studies have found abortion can offer relief and improve the mental health of women. Like many significant life events, pregnancy too (whether planned or unwanted) can affect the mental health of women.

The philosophical discussion of abortion has taken centre stage to the detriment of actual medical and supportive information. Abortion is first and foremost a health issue, not a social one, and we need to start treating it that way. It’s time to change the conversation around abortion, start educating women about their rights and start providing factual information to women on campus (who are, or may become, pregnant) about all of their options.
The Women’s Collective is dedicated to preserving a woman’s right to control the contents of her reproductive organs. We are dedicated to maintaining a campus where all women feel safe and are not vilified for their reproductive choices. We are dedicated to creating a culture on campus where women can make educated decisions about their body without the interference of third parties.

If you are experiencing, or would like information or support regarding unwanted pregnancy, some useful resources include Family Planning NSW (1300 658 886, www.fpnsw.org.au) and Children By Choice (www.childrenbychoice.org.au).

If you are interested in organising with the collective around this issue, want more information about reproductive health or have any other ideas for campaigns or events, get in touch via usydwomenscollective@gmail.com, join the Facebook group ‘USyd Women’s Collective’, tweet us (@SRCwomens) or come along to our meetings – 1pm Wednesdays in the Women’s Room, Manning House.

*It is overwhelmingly women in this position, though I do not mean to ignore those who possess uteri and do not identify as women.

Kyol Blakeney talks about Indigenous identity

“Did you know I’m 1/8 Aboriginal?” “You’re a half caste.” “I have 33% Aboriginal in me.” ……. BULLSHIT!…. You are either Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander or not. When will some people realise that it is not about what fraction or percentage of a nationality you are? It is about how proud you are to identify with the longest living race of people in the world. Nobody can just stand up and claim Aboriginality with a percentage. What I am interested in is how you feel about it in your heart.

It is well understood that some people may not know if they have an Indigenous background or have just found out recently. This is okay. It depends on if that person is willing to accept who they are and be proud of it. Being Indigenous is not just about the blood running through your veins. It’s about how you look for ways to identify and connect with the culture.

So, how do you identify with your culture? Understanding how we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples operate in our community is of major importance. Community is everything to us. There is very rarely a time when an Indigenous person will not drop everything there and then, to help out a fellow black fulla. To all Indigenous people it does not matter if an Indigenous person is charcoal black or milky white. If they are proud to identify as Indigenous and participate in community opportunities, they are more than welcome to. What I do not want to see are people who are embarrassed about their culture, but identify only when there is a benefit to be had.

The most well known definition of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is not from a percentage. Under Section 4(1) or the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) an Aboriginal person means a person who: (a) is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia, and (b) identifies as an Aboriginal person, and (c) is accepted by the Aboriginal community as an Aboriginal person.

Casey Thompson debunks some myths about the upcoming strike

With the National Union of Students’ (NUS) ‘Budget Day National Student Strike’, and the Sydney University branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU)/ Public Service Association (PSA) enterprise bargaining campaign strike, both having occurred on Tuesday May 14, there are some things that I thought needed to be clarified.

ONE: What if I didn’t attend my classes on the strike day?
FICTION: Your teachers keep telling you that if you didn’t attend class on the strike day you’ll fail your course/ lose marks/ no one will ever love you again because your life will become a failure.
FACT: “No student will be penalised if their class does not take place or if they are unable to attend their class” (Derrick Armstrong, Deputy Vice-Chancellor). This statement was sent to every student’s university email, so if you don’t believe me check your inbox!

TWO: But my teachers didn’t tell me that they’d be on strike?
FICTION: University management told you that your staff would have notified you if they’re striking, so if they didn’t tell you and your classes didn’t go ahead because they were on strike they’ve done something wrong.
FACT: Under law employees do not have to declare if they are taking industrial action prior to this action occurring, therefore your staff do not have to have notified you. Employees have the right to anonymity in their involvement in industrial action and with their union membership.

THREE: Are the staff greedy? Can the University afford the unions’ demands, especially with the recent $2.8 billion in federal funding cuts?
FICTION: University management are saying that they would like to grant staff the 7% per annum pay increase, but that they can’t afford it, particularly now they will be losing $45 million in government funding.
FACT: The University currently has a $93 million budgetary surplus and the Vice Chancellor receives an annual salary of nearly $1 million (not including the $100 000s worth of bonuses he awards himself).
The requested 7% per annum pay increase is more than feasible if Spence accepts a lower salary (the average individual’s salary is around $80 000 per annum), because even with the federal funding cuts the University will still have a $48 million surplus left over!

FOUR: Is the University arguing in good faith and attempting to reach an agreement?
FICTION: The University is claiming that it has been attempting to negotiate but the “union does not amend its position”.
FACT: The NTEU and CPSU/PSA are attempting to reach an agreement as soon as possible. They have asked the university to agree to a thirty day time frame so that the University can function as usual, however management refuses to agree to this.
No one particularly enjoys strike action; staff lose pay and students miss out on a day of learning.
The unions have proven their demands are reasonable and will still leave the University with an enormous cash surplus.  Management are the ones unfortunately delaying the bargaining process by (for one example) originally agreeing to reinstate review committees and then backing out of this promise, requiring the negotiation process to start again.

FIVE: How does not going to class help my education?
FICTION: My education is worse off if I don’t attend on a strike day.
FACT: The staff have been taking industrial action because the quality of their working conditions and the quality of your education are under threat. The EBA management wants to introduce will lead to less staff and more students, thus you’re lectures and tutorials will become more and more overcrowded. It will increase the number of casual staff at the University, meaning your teachers are only paid for their ‘face-to-face’ teaching time and thus will find it difficult to adequately prepare for classes and offer you the support you need (and deserve!). The students at Sydney University took industrial action in support of their staff as well as with students around the country in opposition to the $2.8 billion government cuts delivered in the budget yesterday. Yes, missing out on a few days of class due to recent industrial action isn’t ideal and as I said the staff wouldn’t be taking strike action and losing pay if they didn’t have to either. However the strikes send a strong message that we won’t accept $2.8 billion in government funding cuts and we won’t accept an unfair EBA at Sydney University, because both will have a devastating effect on our education.
Therefore, sacrificing a few days this semester is worth it if it allows us to have the high quality degree (read: several years worth of education) that we deserve.

Amelie Vanderstock reports back on the Edufactory conference

What is the education system we wish to see? 
One where learning is a positive ongoing, experience rather than an overwhelming pressure? Where teachers may pursue academic endeavors and still have energy to help students understand complex equations and ideas? Where we emerge without being chained to debt? Where we choose what we learn and the future we hope for? Where the full spectrum of genders, ethnicities, abilities, ages and socio-economic backgrounds have the opportunity to enter into and flourish into said system? 
That is an education that the national network ‘Class Action’, born of the April 2013 Edufactory conference, is actively working towards. Following the 2012’s mass action against the staff cuts, and 2013’s student-staff strikes for a fair workplace agreement, what better sandstone pillars than that of Sydney University to converge such a fight? 
The conference itself brought people from as far as Perth to facilitate discussion and a national response. Indigenous Australian students from the Koori centre explored gaps in Indigenous education and the dangers of ‘tokenism’.

Three feminists from Wollongong shared experiences of running free school; direct action against the cuts to UOW’s gender studies major. International students discussed constraints of visas, unjustified costs and challenges to fighting for change in a country which is foreign to them. Students conferred the challenges of abilities differing invisibly, and how we can work towards equality in the everyday as well as when campaigning. Nepalese students came to share their experiences in what is an international struggle. Historical occupation, economic theory, the role of government, unionism, police intervention, skills, actions and organising principles were workshopped. Delicious food was shared. Silent films of alternate primary school systems were screened. Music was played. Friends were made.
Overall? A success. However, in this conference and in the new network formed, we must remember that it is not only our words, but in our actions and organisations which must reflect the world we wish to see .

Organising Edufactory, I had the fortune to work with some incredible, inspiring women, whose invisible work was often overlooked despite our goals. These women make the show go on whilst despite our best efforts; men often dominate verbal space to debate policy.
Class Action is in its beginnings and has the opportunity to be inclusive of these gaps that exist in education and a broad student movement for change. As participants and organisers both spoke on and experienced, we must make every effort to address these persistent, structural challenges fuelled by a neoliberal, corporatist patriarchy, both in our fight for education, and in our interactions when doing so.

What’s next?

May 14. The National Student Strike.

We welcome all to join convergences (we’ll be at Victoria Park!) from around the country to skip class and rally for free, fair education!

David Pink talks about the challenges facing students in the Diploma in Law

The Diploma in Law is the little known third entry pathway into the legal profession (other than a JD and an LLB), and is designed to be accessible to mature age and full time working students through night and weekend classes. However, the retention rate for the diploma is as little as 30%, and the fail rate for the introductory subject is 40%-60%.

Systemic issues that have recently come to the attention of the SRC include:

– An up-front fee which has been increasing every semester for years (it is now $700 up-front per subject).

– No assessment weighting: if you fail one assessment (even if just a quiz or short research paper) you are then disqualified from sitting the exam.

– Prohibitive special consideration applications: you are only eligible for special consideration if you inform the Law Extension Committee in advance AND it is an emergency. This means, for example, that if you had a heart attack and were in hospital on the day of the exam you would not be able to receive special consideration, because you had not informed them in advance.
- No provisions for make-up exams: even if you receive special consideration for the exam, you are forced to repeat the subject because there are no provisions for re-arranging the exams (albeit it will be refunded).

– For centrelink, the Diploma in Law does not fit the AQF and as such has no defined EFTSL despite the huge workload requirements. This means that it is almost impossible to apply for Austudy.

– No access to formal complaints or appeals processes: the Student Appeals Body explicitly lacks jurisdiction.

The SRC will be looking at ways we can help integrating LPAB LEC students into the regular student body, so that their rights can be more effectively protected.

Tenaya Alattas wants to take Class Action in a safe environment

Class Action is a network formed to address the current crises in our education system. Its political impulse is caught in its title: class action. It begs the question though, is ‘class’ the primary axis on which to measure our oppression, understand our experiences and hope to be liberated from through grassroots organising? Or does the title belie something more insidious, an assertion perhaps of the primacy of class, with oppressions (of gender, race, abilities etc.) relegated to a secondary role, seen as an effect of class struggle (rather than an experience within it’s own right)?

For the organisers of the conference, facilitating a convergence for the radical left was a momentous task on its own accord. Coordinating the accommodation for those travelling inter-state (thank-you STUCCO), making healthy-vegan food for attendees (on a campus whose outlets are privatized outside of our pay-range and no communal space to access to fridges, sinks and stoves) and organising an open spaces-open-mic night, documentary viewings, party-planning, drafting safer-spaces policies, grievance collectives/conflict resolution models, creating the program (40 workshops, plenaries, strategic all-in’s) etc. etc. and ending it all with the creation of a national education-activist network. It follows that wrangling with the complexities of recognition/identity politics vs. class and distribution took the back-burner during those four days.

It is important that I clarify that the question I raised earlier is not leveled at the semantics of the title ‘class action’, but rather to stress that for us to fight for a (better, different, alternative) education, it is important for us to prefigure the world we want to create through our own actions and organisations. Therefore, for ‘Class Action’ to be a network, which is truly inclusive, participatory and capable of effecting radical change, it is important for the members to recognize that oppressive behavior will occur in our networks and is not always “out-there”. On the corollary it is important to stress that the goal of a safer environment under-writing ‘class action’ is to not police people’s language and behavior, or to be the best at safer space, but to support each other in challenging some deeply engrained cultural and economic systems.

In fact, given the prevailing cultures of racism, sexism, transphobia and ableism in an oppressive economic system it would be a miracle if we had not taken on (or internalized) ways of behaving that oppress others and ourselves.  So rather than arguing whether these ‘isms’ do exist; or viewing ‘gender, race etc’ as ‘divisive’ issues, the organising collective designated the conference a safer space, to make explicit the political decision to prioritise the voices of people who are usually silenced. In fact, we only have to look around us in our classrooms and in our activist circles to see that they are dominated by white, cis-gendered, middle-class university students.

To this end, I will finish this report with a shout-out to some of amazing organisers I had the pleasure to help realize the Edufactory vision with, a group of the strongest, most intelligent-awe inspiring, super supportive/talented amazing wom*n : Amelie, Elly, Casey, Clo, Mariana, Brigitte, Nina and Helen <3

Sarah Chuah talks about the struggles facing carers

Since the 1970’s there has been a noticeable shift in the appreciation of disability matters in Australia. From a concern over welfare for the disabled, today we recognise the rights for those with disabilities to participate in and engage fully with society. We are also witnessing a change in attitudes toward mental illness. Statistics telling us that one in four Australians will suffer some form of mental illness in their lifetime, forces the issue into the public and, with the issue of over diagnosis aside, arguably helps dissolve stigmas that have long been attached to mental illness diagnosis.  While those with disabilities and mental health issues have benefitted from these advances in recent decades, the recognition and rights of one group remains largely ignored.

The systemic move away from institutionalised care means that more and more family members and friends of people with disability, who are frail, elderly, have mental health, chronic health or substance abuse problems, must provide care for their loved ones with little to no support.  Although caring can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience with the potential to strengthen relationships, it places additional strain on the carer who must continue to meet their own educational, financial, psychological, social, emotional, and health needs while looking after those of another.

This year we are working hard to raise awareness about student carers at university, with an emphasis on recognition and establishing support mechanisms which help eliminate the gap in education participation and success and allow student carers to realise their full potential in tertiary education. Similar to the shift from welfare to rights of those with disabilities, there is a need to acknowledge the substantial contribution that carers make to society and support them adequately in their endeavours.

We are currently collecting data and stories of student carers at university and encourage anyone who provides support for another person to complete a quick 10 question survey which can be accessed through our Facebook page www.facebook.com/USYDdisabilities.carers, or contact us for more information..

Tabitha Prado-Richardson has advice for anyone targeted by creepy stalker-space websites

Hi! I’m Tabitha, and with Eve and Rose we are the SRC Sexual Harassment Officers. This year we’ve been working on campaigns in conjunction with the Women’s Officers, and we started a campaign called SWAG (Sydney Women’s Action Group) Against Sexism and Sexual Harassment. We want to focus on prevention of sexual harassment, providing services to people who experience sexual harassment, and also take a positive angle to sex and consent. Hopefully soon we will be providing lots of free condoms, pregnancy tests and sexual health resources for y’all.

Our belief is that sex should be fun, free and informed, rather than a source of anxiety. However, we also want to support students whose experiences have led them to be fearful or apprehensive of sex. Sexual expression should not be held to a standard and should be entirely down to what anyone is comfortable with.

On that topic (of comfort), any person who has had experiences with being harassed or stalked is likely to be alarmed at some of the posts being made on the confessional Facebook sites, ‘USYD: Confessions’ and ‘USYD: Spotted’. Not at all like Gossip Girl, I’m afraid. I myself feel a little more exposed and worried on campus knowing the thoughts of particular students who racialise and sexualise other people to excess, especially after being validated by (non-anonymous???) commenters. Somehow these commenters are facing no repercussions for either encouraging bad behaviour, or shaming other people without due reason (slut-shaming and fat-shaming are common).

One particular post that stood out was one written by a woman who recounted her experiences with a man who followed her off a bus, insisting on conversation. She managed to lose him after her lecture, but the main issue that came out of this experience was that she was unable to state her true wishes (of wanting to be left alone) in fear of upsetting the man. Even though he was a complete stranger, his wants were prioritised over her own.
Here are all the things I want to say to this girl, wherever you are:

1.    I know how you feel, sometimes being nice seems like the only thing you can do without being seen as a ‘bitch’, and anyone who shames you for not ‘saying no’ has got it wrong.

2.    For future reference though, being a bitch to people you don’t know is 100% okay. His feelings were never your responsibility. It’s ok to tell people to shove it, because it’s your life and it’s your boundaries and it’s not a crime to be a bitch. This society necessitates it.

3.    This is my personal opinion, but people who follow other people round to talk to them because they liked them just on the basis of their looks are really creepy. It happens far more to women, presumably because they’re not supposed to have personalities (oops). Each to their own, but it’s also good to be reflexive about your own pick-up techniques, so.

4.    I hope next time you feel okay to say ‘Leave me alone S’IL VOUS PLAIT’ with a sense of empowerment, because each time you define boundaries it’s like eating a really delicious empowerment cookie.

Much love, The SRC Sexual Harassment Officers xoxox