CONTENT WARNING: Brief Mention of Transphobia, Sexual Harassment and Assault
From as early as 2014, I had seen moving away to university and living on-campus as one of my highest aspirations. Both my parents and my sister had done it, and they all agreed it provided them with an irreplicable university experience. It was a chance for me to break away from the rigidity of my homelife and at last begin making something of myself. It was because of this goal that I chose the ANU, a university not only praised for its outstanding academic achievements but revered for its amazing culture. The bush campus in the middle of Australia’s capital city was a shining light to an excited 18 year old political science student. From the moment I arrived at ANU, I was ready to participate in all aspects of student life. On Market Day I signed up for various clubs and societies, my excitement for university life still very much alive. It was, however, the events of the following year-and-a-half that would push me from that eager prospective student to a jaded second year, struggling to feel like anything other than the ANU’s cash cow.
This shift began with a decision made by the conveners of ECON1101 – Microeconomics 1 in Semester One of 2019 to conduct a study on the members of the course. While not a controversial decision in and of itself, their omission of the fact that students would be divided by gender and the details of how to study was conducted was contentious. This included the fact that, while students were technically given the ability to opt-in, the nature of the course was not altered for those who did not want to participate. It was also revealed that some transgender students’ gender identities were not respected by the study’s organisers. While I wasn’t in ECON1101 I had friends who were, many of whom were angrier than me. It felt like an invasion of privacy for all students, that members of the ANU faculty felt they could conduct research on students without properly receiving informed consent.
I didn’t begin to suspect anything malicious, however, until a course of my own was stuck with a bout of poor management and damage control. This was, in my case, the controversy surrounding the 2019 POLS1002 – Introduction to Politics end-of-semester exam for Semester One. It came out just a few days after the exam was completed that sample responses to the previous year’s exam had been given to a few tutorial groups and not to others. The tutor who provided their students with these resources was neither explicitly advised against the practice, nor informed that there would be significant crossover of questions and content in the two exams. As a result, the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) stated its intention to disqualify the exam and have students resit it at the beginning of the following semester. Significant student backlash forced CASS to back down and the decision to invalidate the exam was reversed, but it did nothing to address the panic it caused in the first place. The reversal also came with a condition: the questions which were in the materials were retroactively removed from the exam, reducing the total marks by 25 per cent. This was done regardless of whether students had received the extra materials or not. To make matters worse, it was later revealed that the resources were essentially identical to those given to students in preparation for the previous year’s exam, thus providing no unfair advantage. As a result, I would argue the students most greatly affected by the changes were those who had not received the additional resources, myself included. This is because, instead of putting in the effort to isolate the exams of those who had been given the supposed advantage, CASS, and the ANU in turn, chose the blanket solution which was easier for them.
It was the ANU’s response to Australian Human Rights Commission report into Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities, however, that tipped me to the idea that they would only change their policy if it were convenient for them. I can think of no better example of this than the events of 1 August 2019. When members of the ANU executive learned that a sit-in was occurring outside University House where they were having a meeting, they deliberately exited the building to avoid addressing the crowd. This sit-in was conducted on the second anniversary of the release of the report, in which the ANU was outed as the worst university for sexual harassment and assault in Australia. Later that same year all of the university’s residential colleges participated in the Do Better ANU strike, in which students once again called for greater action by the ANU in addressing these issues. To this day there has been no meaningful, long-term change in the university’s policy. The steps that were taken initially in 2017 have since been rolled back. In my mind, this does nothing but once again speak to the university’s attitude: willing to make small, trivial changes to some policy in the short term but unable to begin on a path towards real change.
I was optimistic when students came out against the remote invigilation program Proctorio that the ANU would respond appropriately. I hoped that the significant amount of what I could only see as perfectly reasonable objections to the use of the program would be enough to change the university’s mind. However, once again I was disappointed. To me, the ANU’s decision to move forward with Proctorio seemed to be just another decision made out of self interest. It was not made to provide students with a guarantee of an equitable exam experience, but instead to provide the university with an easy out, to give them the ability to say they are still providing the ‘full university experience’ without any obligation to student welfare. I would like to make one thing clear: the fact the university originally made the decision is not the issue, they had to find an alternate way to conduct remote exams. The issue is the fact they feel perfectly comfortable ignoring calls from 13 clubs and societies, as well as ANUSA, for an alternative. That they feel student concerns, especially in a time like this, can be dismissed without consequence. They felt it was okay to respond to one student concerned about those without the faculties to use Proctorio effectively by assuring them they were ‘mindful of student needs’. You really want to be mindful of students’ needs, ANU? Then why not actually listen to them?
I love the ANU for what it aspires to be, a place of learning where students and faculty alike are pushed to be the best versions of themselves. I have, over the past year and a half, come to feel not just frustrated with it but actively disenfranchised by an institution that seems more interested in the pursuit of profits than in the promotion of student welfare.