One Thursday night, as my room-mate went-off to a Bush-week party and I chose to spend my evening with myself, I started to reflect upon what I have recently seen and heard. And that reflection led me to sit in front of my laptop and to write this piece, which intends to raise public awareness and discussion in relation to the issue of wide-spread student poverty on the campus.
I believe it would be helpful for the readers to start my commentary with some context of my feelings. I have volunteered with the Student Association (SA) for an event during Bush Week, where my major “duty” was to put up all the decorations and do the clean-ups after people left. Though having been to similar occasions for a couple of times by now, I was still much surprised by the high level of alcohol consumption per person during the party, let alone the “after-party” at Mooseheads.
At the same time, I could still recall a recent article I read about student poverty in early July [Link: http://www.news.com.au/national-news/two-thirds-of-uni-students-live-in-poverty-according-to-new-report/story-fncynjr2-1226679332065] and the stickers I saw a few days earlier indicating any opportunity to obtain a free warm meal on one of the notice boards in the ANU counseling center. Those clues prompted me in reaching the conclusion that at least some, if not a large proportion of, our fellow students are struggling with the daily bread, butter and books. Unfortunately, the reality is, some might find themselves one day with sorrow in their heart, having to give the last glance to the campus before leaving it, simply because they cannot afford their daily necessities.
For me, a question certainly arises out of this stark contrast: namely, “what we can do to bring reliefs to those who most urgently need them?” What is should the Student Association’s money actually be spent on?
Again, this piece aims at raising public awareness about the issue of student poverty, and initiating useful discussions. The very least thing I wish to hear as a response to this piece is “someone should be blamed for that”. However, from my observation (and please correct me if I am wrong), I am at least confident to reach the conclusion that events such as the Bush Week ones do not generate any income for the SA. I am certainly not advocating for a simple abolishment of any such event in the future and then to give savings to the “poor people”. Those events are not only necessary, but essential; they aim at bringing people from diverse origins to have a sense of community.
What I am concerned about is the question what those who are struggling would feel, if they were informed of the extent of wastefulness on things such as thrown away untouched muffins, pizzas and chips after an ANUSA party, or the increasing likelihood of some of the patrons viewing the event merely as a chance to get cheaply and extensively “boozed”, instead of socialize with others to form a more harmonized and compassionate community which cares for each of its members. If getting heavily intoxicated, and turning our backs to the well-beings of our brothers and sisters who might be in cold, hunger or despair, is a part of the group norm, then I would feel shame to be a part of this community.
Couldn’t this money be spent on something else, maybe something else slightly more “productive”? How bad is the situation actually? What could the SA do to help? Is there a need to change the current structure and priorities of the SA so that it could better address this problem? Amongst these questions, the most important one is that what we as individuals could do to help our less fortune fellow students? Maybe by inviting him or her over to have a warm-dinner, or sharing a textbook with that person, or making some photocopies for that person? Such thing may be insignificant on its own merit; but it certainly conveys a clear message: “I care”. It could also be the case that, after intensive discussion, it turned out that I were wrong about the scale of the problem, or even the question as to whether there is one at all. However the results of such discussions may be that someone has to start asking questions, sometimes even disturbing ones, to start the process of fact-finding. Or otherwise our selective blindness, if there were indeed a question, could only make it worse for those who are struggling on a daily basis.