Woroni Comment asked for your views on ANUSA, what they do now, and what they could do differently. Below are the thoughts of some of those who have been involved:
On the Departments & Their Work
For new students, coming into a university whose student association openly recognises the barriers to education, work, and society faced by minorities, sets immediate expectations of what kind of behaviour is supported by their fellow ANU students. This is exactly what occurs from the implementation and continuation of the ANUSA Departments.
In my role as Queer* Officer in 2016 (and involvement in the Queer* and Women’s Departments since 2013), I have seen first-hand how professional organisations within Canberra and the University respond to someone with a voice supported by the backing of a million dollar organisation. If the challenges minority students face are institutionally recognised, advocacy holds much more power – the ANU is more likely to listen to an elected representative, chosen to advocate for a group of students, than to a group of students without the financial and administrative backing of ANUSA.
As the former ANUSA Queer* Officer, I have had students approach me about coming out to their friends and lecturers about their gender identity or sexuality. I have had an overwhelming number of enquiries from students who were concerned that they would be laughed at or ostracised, and have been able to assure them that there were explicit services in place for them to receive help, and that there was a sense of community from other queer* students, and general support from the ANU student body. That experience was one of the most rewarding I have had in my time at the ANU. It was a privilege to be able to tell a new student questioning their gender identity that the Queer* Department existed to advocate for their rights and had a dedicated space for queer* students, which they could then use to experiment with their gender expression and pronouns in a non-judgmental, safe space. This was expressly made possible by the existence of ANUSA and its Departments.
As a queer woman who manages a mental illness, I am no stranger to barriers, but they have been relatively infrequent in my life at the ANU. I do not believe this would be the case if we did not have dedicated Departments to advocate for the parts of my identity that are not overwhelmingly accepted by society. The fellow students I have encountered that do not see the merit in Departments, have ironically been the ones who have implied that the sex I’ve had with other women hasn’t been ‘real’, told me I ‘don’t look like a lesbian’, or questioned my capabilities, both academically and professionally, due to my gender.
I am not implying that critiquing Departments means you are discriminatory. But it is my belief, formed through years involved in Departments, professional work at ANU, and the sometimes negative life experiences of a queer woman, that if you believe the challenges minority students face is not enough to warrant financial and organisational support, you probably don’t understand the advocacy work Departments do, and have likely had the privilege of walking down the street without questioning whether it’s safe to hold hands with your partner. I am happy for you – but perhaps you should support the creation of happiness for your fellow students who take their partner’s hands only to find bigotry and slurs thrown their way.
On Experience & Policies
In my first week of university, a third year walked up to me and said ‘you’ll go into stupol one day’. Being an ignorant first year, I thought student politics was my calling from that moment on. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
From Week 10 of Semester 1 to Week 1 of Semester 2, I was approached numerous times by representatives from two major tickets. I knew a lot of people on both tickets and many were close friends. They were and still are people I respect and look up to – they collectively do a lot of great work around ANU. I felt obligated to hear them out and pretend to look interested while they told me things about the other ticket that I knew was plain wrong. I was contacted over Facebook, over the phone and in person every second day. I was part of a seemingly endless cycle of electioneering.
For me, the people I was approached by were, and still are, hard to work out. They don’t fit into the resume building stereotype. Many of these student politicians are simple overachievers who want to make a difference. They live purely on adrenaline and are prone to burn out on a weekly basis. In short, their lives are a cycle of extreme highs and lows.
Having observed these people from a distance, I still thought student politics was for me. To be blunt, I live like a student politician now. I run at full speed every day and don’t stop unless I’m dead sick in bed. However, my gut told me not to run. Stories of the Ready debacle last year still shock me. The lies, deceit and backstabbing behind the scenes this year was appalling. Factional lines within tickets often changed hourly depending on what people thought was best. It was like a parody in real life.
So, I decided not to run. I said no, not because I wasn’t ready to create change – I said no, because I don’t think I can actively create that change. The sort of people who should actually run for ANUSA shouldn’t just be passionate about making change – they need actual experience, and practical policies to bring into effect. As Amplify ANUSA states on their website, ‘every year, ANUSA tickets campaign on a platform of inclusivity and accountability’. ANUSA elections have become a predictable cycle of words, not pragmatism. This is dangerous for every student at ANU and every major ticket is at fault.
I am not criticizing the work of Ben Gill or his executive. Bringing in some tangible reform, they have been a somewhat refreshing change to previous ANUSA teams. However, there is much more to be done. All serious contenders for ANUSA need to start thinking outside the square. The upcoming election cycle cannot and should not be about catchphrases and empty promises. All tickets need to propose concrete changes that can actually be implemented. There is no longer a time or place for policies which ‘promote’, ‘advocate’ or ‘protest’ unless they are done in conjunction with practical reform. We have seen the failures of protest and advocacy in the cuts to CHL and the lowering of the HECS threshold. On issues such as mental health and support for low SES students, the undergraduate body demands tangible policies on issues which they can engage with and benefit from in the short term.
We can all agree, as all of the major tickets agree, that ANUSA needs to change. ANUSA can no longer live in its bubble above Union Court. That means breaking a cycle of what has “worked” previously. Tickets win by having platforms of accountability and inclusivity. However, these loosely defined sort of tickets aren’t good for the future of ANUSA.
The future of ANUSA needs to start now with real, new, and concrete change. I’m not the person to do that – they need someone with experience. Perhaps those running for ANUSA this year should consider that.
On Selecting the Presidential Candidates
I’m a stupol hack. For most of this year, I didn’t feel like a stupol hack, but when I found myself asking if people were interested in running for ANUSA President, I came to a realisation that I had become one. Yes – it’s unusual for someone to be asked if they’ve thought about running for President, rather than making the decision for themselves. There’s a vacuum of people who are actually interested in the role, and I’d like to explore the reasons why people decide not to run, and how we could potentially encourage more to run.
What are we looking for? The ANUSA President is the undergraduate representative on University Council, meaning that they should be a strong negotiator. They are akin to the ‘CEO’ – a role where they manage the staff employed by ANUSA and its representatives, so good leadership dynamics and “people skills” are of the utmost importance. Moreover, they are largely responsible for the strategic direction of the Association. It is also a full-time job, working close to 38-50 hours per week.
There are the personal factors to take into account: we can examine various forms of privilege. Certainly, having an inflated (and in some cases overinflated) male ego is a pretty good way of finding the motivation to run. There’s decent history of ANUSA tickets applying affirmative action in selecting their candidates in general, but it is not always the case that a non-cis male has the opportunity to run as the ticket’s presidential candidate. The last female-identifying president of ANUSA was in 2013, and we haven’t had many female-identifying presidential candidates since.
Whilst December 1st to November 31st the following year is the formal term of office, ANUSA president is in reality a year-and-a-half long commitment. Elections occur in August, and soon after, in September, SSAF negotiations begin. Having the financial resources and spare time for this August to December period rules out a number of people. This means that you’ll often find someone who has come out of a demanding role and needs to be open to jumping straight into another. Sometimes, people just have better things to do with their time.
In looking for reliable places for students to gain experience on-campus, one would first search within the Association. The ANUSA executive are well-placed to step into the role, or alternately, Department Officer roles are demanding and allow one to prove that they can set a strategic vision. College Representatives certainly have the advocacy and negotiation experience with the University, but as a pool of 12 people, they currently don’t receive as much structural support from the organisation as they should. By design, the duties of General Representatives are left undefined, which tends to mean that it’s an unreliable avenue for skill development.
If one was to look outside of the Association, we could point at the vibrant Clubs and Society culture at the ANU, but few of these organisations operate committees of a similar size, objective, or budget of ANUSA. Variety in our clubs is not a bad thing – but you wouldn’t necessarily expect the President of the ANU Lettuce Society to become the next President of ANUSA. It’s difficult to guarantee that all C&S executives have been given the opportunities both to think about and receive training in maintaining healthy, functional committees and focus on organisational strategy. Rather, they are left to figure it out themselves. If only there existed some overseeing body for clubs and societies that could help guide this process.
Where else? ANU Union and ANU Sport? Maybe, I’m not familiar with what the students here do. ANU Student Media? Woroni has a mandate to investigate and hold ANUSA accountable, which naturally lends to the idea that the people involved with Woroni would have a fairly good idea as to how ANUSA functions. I would question, however, whether the current six-month Editor-in-Chief positions can adequately give a single person enough time to both form ideas and then see it completely through to implementation.
With some exceptions, residential committees are not business entities in their own right but rather are established through University policies. Whilst they are a great opportunity for skill development, students miss out on a lot of corporate governance experience under such an organisational structure.
With these options ruled out, perhaps I’m overestimating the amount of experience one should have before jumping into what is essentially a student representative role. But certainly, experience makes you a competitive candidate, and there’s if improvements to the way our student organisations both are structured and operate are made, then perhaps there’ll be an increase in the number of potential experienced candidates for a role for which ideally any ANU undergraduate student should be able to run.