Tonight, students at the School of Art and Design (SOAD) protested against limited access hours to the School’s on-campus facilities. Beatrice Tucker, the ANU Undergraduate Students’ Association (ANUSA) Education Officer, has organised these protests alongside other SOAD students as part of their overall activism against student learning conditions. 

Sit-ins are a historic form of protest for students. ANU students have used sit-ins to protest against university corporatisation and university fees. This year, ANUSA has largely held rallies and protests as their main form of activism. This sit-in could mark an increase in the ferocity of its protests, especially as Tucker enters their second year as Education Officer. This protest represents an increase in ANUSA’s activism, with another protest against CASS program disestablishment this Friday, 7 October.

Tonight students occupied the foyer of the SOAD building from 5:30pm to 10pm, the times when students used to be able to access the building.

Since the start of COVID-19, the ANU cut studio access hours for Bachelor of Visual Arts and Bachelor of Design students from 1200 hours to 570 hours. This decrease of 52.5 percent was a response to COVID-19 restrictions and staff limitations. 

This means that students can only access studio spaces on weekdays from 8:30am, to 6:15pm. 

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ANU denied students access to studios outside of standard business hours presumably due to social distancing measures. However, whilst the majority of the University exclusively offers in-person learning, SOAD’s studios have yet to follow. 

An ANU spokesperson stated that “Claims about a reduction in studio hours for visual art students are incorrect and simply untrue.” and argued that “What students are calling for is additional hours, outside of scheduled class time, to work on assessment items and projects.” However, the spokesperson also “…understands and appreciates students’ frustration.”

Students from SOAD asserted this frustration in a joint, open letter:

“Students who began studying full-time in 2020 have now almost finished their degree without ever having access to the facilities and infrastructure that we were promised and that we are paying full fees for.”

Furthermore, students argue that the University is not being clear with them about when it will restore studio access:

“[they] have been told by school administration for several months that after hours studio access would resume once the Art and Music Library became open 24 hours. The library moved to 24 hours access at the beginning of term 4, however we are still unable to access the studios after 6pm on weekdays, or at all on weekends or public holidays.”

An ANU spokesperson did say that weekday after business hours access is “…imminent…” and pointed to SOAD students having 24/7 access to the Art, Design and Music library. However, the spokesperson did not mention weekend access.

Additional correspondence with the SOAD has resulted in “no concrete timeline for implementing after hours access [and no] explanation as to why this process will continue to take so long.”

However, ANU has clarified that access is unavailable due to upgrades to the building which include workplace safety and security requirements and external lighting.

Beatrice Tucker is a student at the School of Art and Design.

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