Elections are finally over, and I think we can all give a collective sigh of relief. If you ran and weren’t one of the 38(ish) candidates who got elected, you’re probably disappointed with the result. You may have put a lot of work into developing detailed policy that no one read, or spent hours campaigning and joking that you’re now a “stupol hack” instead of studying. If you weren’t jaded and disillusioned with ANUSA already, chances are you will be when elections roll around next year and you see the same policy proposals paraded. Between bitterness and burnout, it’s no surprise that few student representatives run for re-election.
The good news is that there are many different ways to make meaningful impacts on student life without winning elections. Instead of plotting to take over Clubs Council, here are a few ideas to get active on campus.
The recent Interhall Committee campaign Who Pays the Price? has demonstrated how different residential communities can coordinate to force student issues into the public consciousness. If you live in a hall of residence at ANU, you have the opportunity to get involved in your residential committees and organise activities and campaigns. There is a tendency for many candidates to run for “first year” positions and few for senior roles.
As with any of the ideas on this list, you shouldn’t run just to enhance your CV, get an honorarium or prepare for next year’s student elections. If you have the skills and passion necessary to contribute to residential life, go ahead. If not, there are plenty of other opportunities.
What do meetings of ANU Council, the Academic Board and a bunch of University committees have in common? Students can attend as observers. Many of the big decisions of ANU are made in these obscure bodies and you have the ability to see how this happens. You should give notice if you plan on attending (check each board’s charter for who to email), but there’s nothing stopping you from keeping an eye on the inner workings of the university. Except confidentiality. And a lack of info on the ANU website. And that time ANU Council met in Darwin for some reason.
Unlike taciturn student observers, many student representatives actually sit on ANU boards with full privileges, from the Undergraduate Member on ANU Council to the Student Experience Committee. Further, College Representatives have a direct dialogue with the heads of academic colleges. While you may not hold these positions, there’s nothing stopping you from lobbying your representatives to, in turn, lobby those with their hands on the levers of university power. “Consultation” is a term often bandied about during elections, but you can ensure your reps actually make an impact. Arrange a meeting in person, prepare and present your issue, urge them to relay your concerns to the board/dean and follow up on action taken. It’s simple, and many reps will actually be keen to listen to someone who can give them something concrete to bring up at their next meeting.
As a member of ANUSA, you can attend SRC, College Representative and general meetings, where you can question officeholders and move motions. However, you can also get involved in working groups, where discussions from arts funding to gender equality influence the activities of the student union. As these are often poorly attended, you have many opportunities to contribute. Be warned: some working groups are more focused and effective than others. Try a few out to filter out the white elephants. You can also get involved with ANUSA’s autonomous departments and collectives, which often take the lead on organising campaign and advocacy action. If you’re from a marginalised community group, meetings are regular and open. Just check Facebook or Department Officers for more info!
EdCom is the education committee of ANUSA, tasked with advocating for education issues as well as mounting campaigns and protests on topics such as fee hikes. While it has gained a reputation for being dominated by factional interests, it has gradually become more open in recent years. Combine this with relatively low turnout to meetings and a considerable budget for campaign activities and there is significant potential for keen, experienced organisers to push ANUSA’s advocacy forward. It remains to be seen whether next year’s EdCom will be an effective force for change. Nonetheless, if you and a couple of friends have an issue you want to ANUSA to campaign on (possibly with funding), then checking in with EdCom and the Education Officer is advised.
If you’re looking to ask difficult questions to the ANU or publish essays on the student experience, student media is for you. With actual online readerships and topics ranging from changes to university degrees to wider university policies (not to mention detailed election reporting), ANU Observer and Woroni play an integral part in keeping the student body informed about all goings-on on campus. While reporter places are limited, Woroni is always on the lookout for online and print content from students. If you want to write opinion pieces on the student experience at ANU that people actually read, this may be an avenue for you.
Truth be told, the ANU doesn’t make it easy for students to affect university policy. Most of the big decisions are made at the executive level with little to no student consultation. Barring a sudden promotion to the Chancellery, you may have to broaden your scope outside of ANUSA and ANU to have real influence by finding organisations the university wants (or at least is forced) to hear. For instance, the Young Workers Centre runs a variety of campaigns combatting wage theft that you can get involved in through volunteering on their website. You could also try emailing ANU executives directly, and if their response is unsatisfactory, reply or write a letter to the Canberra Times.
You can always run again next year, using your newfound insight into student elections. Chances are it’ll be easier, since you’ll know what you’re doing, have name recognition and have (hopefully) been keeping up to date with ANUSA and university news, rather than being thrown in the deep end. Maybe you don’t even need to focus on ANU; there are plenty of other institutions and problems out there needing to be fixed. All you can be sure about is that if you don’t do it, it won’t happen.