On Friday September 23, attendees at ANUSA’s third Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) voted unanimously to establish the Association’s first Ethnocultural Department, capping off a long journey that began with discussions in mid-2015. Existing as a committee in the intervening period, the group promises to advocate for ethnoculturally and linguistically diverse students who self-identify as people of colour.
Rashna Farrukh, Secretary of the previous Ethnocultural Committee, opened by saying the Department would fill an “empty space where ethnoculturally-diverse people felt they weren’t being represented by the university.”
Kat Reed, Co-Chair of the Committee, labelled the passing of the motion as “historic”, especially since other Australian universities like University of Sydney and La Trobe already have equivalent departments, as does the National Union of Students.
Farrukh particularly expressed frustrations that the sexual assault survey being conducted at ANU – led by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia, and kickstarted by the NUS – did not consult students of colour, and does not currently plan to include recommendations for them. She cited the unique experiences of persons of colour, particularly the dimensions of shame and stigma that may prevent ethnoculturally-diverse students from reporting crimes.
She told Woroni that the historical absence of ethnoculturally-diverse voices from discussions of sexual violence needed to be addressed.
The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre’s online resources see feelings of community betrayal, shame, and exclusion as barriers to the reporting of sexual assaults, as well as a lack of trust in health services.
An Australian Law Reform Commission publication on sexual assault reporting also notes that community pressures, isolation, immigration status, and language barriers may interfere with women reporting crimes. The publication also stressed that Indigenous women could suffer from similar conditions, with distrust of police and systemic barriers to essential services also factoring in.
Farrukh hoped that the Department would work with the Women’s Department on this issue, particularly in hosting educational events with the Women of Colour Collective and providing resources for sexual assault survivors.
Speaking to the motion, Afif Haque argued the Department would be a “space to feel accepted and safe,” and would foster “greater understanding and real, positive change.” He also alluded to problems of racism within the wider society.
Expanding on this, Farrukh told Woroni “It is true that today very vocal elements of racism exist in not only Australian society at large, but on our campus. However, it is also true that everyday implicit forms of racism which go unnoticed by the majority of people, can be extremely hurtful to the marginalised students that we represent.”
She continued, advocating for a strategy of local change within the University, “So although we aim to – in the long term – bring about change in divisive rhetoric which has been a strong media focal point lately, we believe in the saying that ‘change begins at home.’”
Raqeeb Bhuyan, supporting the motion, also noted at the OGM that adequate resources would be needed for the Department. Farrukh later told the reporter “we hope that we are consulted on issues that would affect the administrative processes of ANUSA our Department uses in order to fund our campaigns and projects.”
She looked forward to a “friendly and efficient system” of financial and administrative cooperation with ANUSA, and hoped for guidance from ANUSA’s financial team in establishing the Department.
Needless to say, Farrukh and the executive were pleased. She concluded to Woroni: “By giving ethnoculturally-diverse people the dignity and agency to go out into the ANU community, we are hoping to send a message which says that ‘we are here, and we have opinions and experiences which matter.’”