close up of blue flowers

An Ode to all Students

CW: mentions of sexual assault

We live in an environment where students preach an egalitarian society. The idea of discrimination on a public level is quickly shut down by peers, teachers or your internet warriors. It is something we as students of the ANU take pride in; our progressive attitudes providing hope for what we are to bring in the future. Yet there are cracks, fault lines and imperfections, as there is with any large social system. One of our greatest weaknesses, as a body of severely intelligent and well-rounded students, is the secret, underlying feeling we all have – we see ourselves as better than others. More capable of doing the job, deserving a scholarship or holding a moral high ground to crush our opponents down.

 

‘You’re better than that.’ Four words were given to my friend by his ex-girlfriend in advice on never getting with me, four words that placed a label over my head. Slut? Unintelligent? Underachieving? Mentally unhealthy? I don’t know what his ex meant when she said it, but, to me, she meant it all. Most of all she meant that I was less than her. Never had I experienced such an intense negative opinion. I had always considered myself well respected, always making a conscious effort to be respectful of others. Suddenly I found myself sitting in my room, re-evaluating who I had become at college. I had someone look down on me, a third party with such an intense opinion of me. This left an impact on my identity, my self-value and my life choices. Since moving to college, I had become more liberal in every possible way. I saw this as only positive; I had pulled back the barriers of my perfectionistic expectations to be more comfortable in my own skin. A condition for my self-acceptance was I now faced outward retaliation for the first time. Not to mention from someone who barely knows me. After a night of wallowing in self-pity, I realised I had two options with this situation; fuel myself with shame and anger, shrink into a ball and take away my newfound confidence. Or I could send a message that we, as students, need to hear.

 

There is a social uprising to the treatment of any gender in an oppressive manner. As a group of mostly progressive students, we not only outwardly reject explicit discrimination but implicit behaviour as well. We will no longer stand for rape culture, sexism, homophobia or racist comments under people’s breath, ironic jokes or so much as a whistle in a person’s direction as they simply go about their day to day life. However, the only way to begin a true change to sexist culture and unacceptable norms is to start believing we are equal. That no one is above another. This classist, arrogant and backwards form of thinking is what stops a shift in negative cultural behaviour. We grow blind by our own egos; our own self-absorbed attitudes take over. We cannot allow our faults at students stop us from making the same mistakes past generations have. People argue that life is a competition and you do whatever it takes to win. That belief has a hidden consequence; you can never win in the long term. You are eventually dragged back by the ghosts of your past that you put down for a singular selfish moment of self-gain. If we, as a university, want to see a new culture, want to escape backwards and toxic behaviour then it begins with pushing away our petty pride and accepting one another as equal, no matter a person’s life decisions. Evaluate whether you’re supporting your peers, your friends, your lovers and your teachers or if you’re dragging the whole movement back.

 

The AHRC released their report the same day following the defamation of my persona. 51 per cent of us reading this have experienced a form of sexual harassment in 2016. A number, another painfully tragic number, in a pool full of victims who continue to go through every day, fighting back against the unfair world we still live in. Our Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt’s beginning words leave a haunting effect on how far we still have to go for university culture to change. I want to start by saying sorry. Sorry to any student, to any staff member, to any member of our alumni community who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault on our campus. There is a tone of mourning, fear and desperation, for an answer on how to solve this national crisis. The first step is to support one another, to accept one another for our differences, our different approaches to life and, then, to embrace it. No one is above anyone else, we are all simply different, and it is beyond important we take advantage of this to solve the issue our Chancellor desperately wants to be solved.

 

We need to restructure our thinking, to turn it around in an entirely different direction, to think outside of the box. This begins with opening ourselves to a greater degree of empathy and respect for others. The moment a student turns against another for the way they live their life, their sexuality, their mental health, how they approach their academics, it immediately risks the flame burning out, a flame which could have very well redefined the world in which we live.

 

If we, as students, want older generations to begin taking us seriously, to stop seeing us as the avocado eating internet warriors, it is time that we stop thinking we are above others and instead embrace the intricacies and complexities of every peer. This is what will remould our university in being a place to be proud.

If this story has raised any concerns, you can contact:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line
(02) 6247 2525

ANU Counselling
(02) 6125 2442

1800 RESPECT
1800 737 732

ANU Women’s Department
Contact the Women’s Officer, Holly Zhang:
– For non-urgent inquiries: sa.womens@anu.edu.au
– For urgent matters: 0467 092 808