Comments Off on A More Innovative and Agile Student Media
Woroni is for everyone, from first year undergraduates and wizened PhD candidates to international students and part-timers. We represent the voices of the ANU student body. Yes, all of it — everyone is welcome to contribute to Woroni. People of all faiths and creeds, political opinions, convictions, ethnicities, identities and life experiences. We will always provide a platform for those who ask … within reason, of course! University is a formative time for most students as ideas are tested, imparted, and refined. Our aim is to be a mouthpiece to nurture the student voice and provide the space for the flourishing of student identity and opinions at the university. Our aim is to build a culture of inclusivity through the power of free speech. Located at the heart of Australia’s political landscape, ANU Student Media amplifies the voices of the weak so that they can be heard alongside the voices of those who walk the corridors of power. The media uncovers the things that those in power try to cover up and hold them accountable for their actions. Woroni is proudly independent. Always. But the media landscape is changing. Journalism is all about trust. Trust and truth have become scarce resources. Quality journalism, investigative pieces, expert commentary, analysis, and opinion, have helped Woroni to underpin our trusted role at the ANU. The move to a magazine represents the revitalisation Woroni. We are pivoting to focus on what we do best: timely and accurate news, quality analysis and opinion, and breathtaking art and graphics. This means unshackling our news team from the rigid deadlines and structures of print so that we can invest more in the core business of news — communicating information to students and holding university leaders to account. Woroni is committed to exploring new and emerging forms of media. Our core expertise is equipping students with the abilities to flourish in the media industry. It’s about combining the art of story-telling with the facts. Woroni’s strength is the institutional memory that comes with almost 70 years of student media, and the sheer diversity of students involved. Both the University administration and the students place their trust (and money) in us because we have proven time and time again that student media is an essential part of university life. Although there will always be a home for news in print publications, the best place for news is soundly in the digital space. Print is not dead, but it is reborn. We need to expand beyond print to focus on our other platforms, including online, radio and TV. Students consume and produce content through a variety of different channels. The rebirth of Woroni allows us to focus on our core business of communicating information to students and representing the student voice.
Woroni has a proud history of being the ANU’s student media outlet since 1950. This organisation, now in its late sixties, has constantly succeeded in its goal of promoting open public dialogue and debate in the university community. We produce interesting, entertaining, informative, recognised and regular content, as per the goals enshrined in the association’s constitution. The diversity of opinions, stories and authors published within the pages of the paper has grown and changed to reflect that of the student body and the changing times and makeup of Australia. Social values, accepted norms and cultural understandings have moved forward in over half a century and likewise Woroni today is not what it was, it is a product of its time to be viewed as context for the fabric of student society. But we cannot stagnate and hold on to tradition for the sake of tradition alone, nor is the continuing development a bad thing. And so, we are moving forward, but don’t fear ANU Students – we’ll still be your Woroni who you know and love. So we’re moving! Not just to a new office; at the beginning of next year our print publication will become a monthly magazine. All of the things you love about the content we produce, the art we showcase and the stories we share will be the same, they will just be printed on different paper. We will still work to discover and develop the creative talents of students at the University in journalism and the media arts, even without a dedicated degree in journalism at the ANU. We will still provide events, professional development and a platform for your voices, we are just going to be doing it better. We’ll have more time to work with you on your pieces, more ability to showcase your art, news delivered to you faster, and more capacity to support you when you work with the organisation.
Jobs and Growth
And Woroni remains a growing organisation. With the addition of Woroni Radio in 2012, and Woroni TV in 2017 ANU Student Media remains the only successful multi-platform, independent student media organisation in Australia. Woroni maintains a team of 70 regularly engaged volunteers across our platforms, nearly 100 radio presenters and literally thousands of contributors to the paper.
Print is Dead. Long Live Print.
The newspaper has been the cornerstone of the organisation since its inception, and an icon for many generations of ANU students. Nonetheless, the media landscape is now changing and evolving to reflect the interests of the community and adapt to new ways in which people interact with news and media. Across the country, newspapers have edited their production processes and formats to respond to these changes. Student publications too have responded by transforming their printed format from the tabloid newspapers to producing magazines and emphasising creative content, leaving Woroni as one of the last student newspapers in Australia. We should take pride in what the newspaper has achieved and how far it has come. We should take pride as ANU students that our student media organisation has for almost 70 years reported on, and held accountable the university, the government, and student groups for their actions. News reporting is an integral part of what we do, and it’s not going away any time soon. But to continue bringing you effective reporting, we need to ensure our news is timely. To this end, we are going to enhance our news platform by focussing on online news.
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
Woroni is more than just a news-paper or the content that is created, it documents the evolution of the Australian National University from its inception in the early 1950s to the leading university in Australia and ranked in the top 20 in the World. The oldest Woroni in the Trove online at the National Library of Australia is from June 14, 1950, only six pages long, and under the masthead, “Journal of the Canberra University College Students Club.” By 1961 under a new masthead reads “The newspaper of the ANU Students Association,” and thus Woroni was incorporated into ANUSA until 2011 when it became fully independent. Independence has been a process of figuring out where Woroni’s place is as the student newspaper, how we engage with students and has resulted in the multimedia platform we have today.
Moving Woroni Forward
With growth and change comes challenges, and structures and practices must be revisited. Woroni has gone from an eight-page paper disseminated before the internet, to a major fortnightly publication focussed on amplifying student voices. We are going to create timeless publications, with greater relevance for longer. Which won’t yellow and age in only a year. Which won’t be known for the events of the time, but instead will give a snapshot of the student body’s thoughts, values and challenges being faced. We won’t shy away from controversy. We won’t hesitate to draw the line. And we won’t be going away any time soon. But we will be moving with the times. And we will still at our heart be Australian National University Student Media.
Respect Your Elders
I’ll end by giving thanks to the thousands of writers, editors, artists, designers, contributors and, most importantly, students who have been part of the creation of hundreds of newspapers over the years. We commit to continuing the legacy of print as we move into the next chapter of Woroni’s history.
Ethnic and cultural diversities are important to society, just like how biodiversity is essential to the natural ecosystem. Biodiversity allows the ecosystem to be more productive and resilient to disturbances because there are many niches. It is the same in our society: ethnic and cultural diversities promote social development by facilitating knowledge sharing and introducing novel ideas that challenge the existing norm.
I spent my childhood in Hong Kong, a place where eastern and western cultures meet due to its colonial history that only ended 20 years ago. Multiculturalism, to me, is a norm. My family celebrates both Lunar New Year and Christmas. The music, movies and TV shows that we consume come from all around the world. I had to learn three languages at school. I guess that is the reason why when I started studying as an international student in Australia, the only cultural shock I had was about how friendly Australians are.
The environment that I grew up in was rather hostile in my opinion. Elitism and competitiveness destroyed the trust between people in the society. Within our culture, it is normal to be cynical. In fact, I was even judged by my relatives for being too nice. They believed that niceness is a disadvantage; in other words, only selfishness would lead to success. I feel like I have made the correct decision to study in Australia, where selfishness is less prevalent. All the friendly phrases that Australians use make me feel included in a welcoming environment. I enjoy living in Canberra because I can finally be who I am, knowing that no one will judge me for that. Back home, I felt like I was judged for the values I hold. For example, no one back at home knows about my sexuality because of the potential judgements. But here, living in Canberra, I finally feel comfortable to expose myself.
As an international student, I had to assimilate into the Australian culture. Interestingly, I did not find it a matter of conflict. My thought process was that, if I live in a country with different culture, I should respect their country and adapt to their way of life. Celebrating local holidays, being informed about Australian politics, learning the history of the landscape and cracking open a cold one with friends, these are a few examples of adaption, in my opinion. It is all about immersion. That does not mean that I should conform to the Western culture completely and change my identity because I believe multiculturalism is beneficial to social development. I have seen people who are not willing to adapt to a different culture, people who are ready to change but find it difficult and people who adapt completely and lose their original identity. Speaking from an international student’s perspective, one of the advantages of studying abroad is that we can broaden our horizons and become more open-minded through immersion of different cultures. If I do not at least try to adapt, I would ask myself, ‘why do you even study overseas?’
It is understandable that why sometimes international students are not welcomed by some students in the universities, if they refuse to assimilate to Australia’s way of life, even to a minute extent. Assimilation is a tricky issue because, on the one hand, I want to accept the cultural perspectives of other people, but on the contrary, I need to preserve my own cultural identity. Striking a balance is often quite challenging.
But, there’s one thing that I’m sure about, which is mutual respect. I think that racism stems from a lack of respect. It’s okay if you disagree with other people’s way of life or values, but always remember to be respectful. We should respect and be grateful to whatever country we go to. We should also be respectful of individuals from other cultures because assimilation is not as easy as we may think.
Although I consider assimilation important, I understand that everyone has a unique set of values and attitudes, so we cannot force other people to adapt. But, I do believe an appropriate level of assimilation is beneficial to personal development. I understand that assimilation can be hard because English might not be our native language, or we are just too shy or scared. But, the ANU is such a supportive and friendly environment; we do not need to be afraid to step out of our comfort zone. Stepping out of my comfort zone has changed my life personally. Being able to openly talk about mental health, sexuality, political orientation and religion; the process of assimilation has truly inspired me. I hope for a day when words like assimilation and multiculturalism are no longer buzzwords, but the social norms. But until that day arrives, there is still a long way to go.
‘Take care! Call us when you settle down!’ These words slowly sunk into me as I watched my parents leaving me behind in Australia. Less than a week ago, I was enjoying my time in my home country, Malaysia; but now I am an official ANU student in Canberra, with less than a few days to settle into this new environment.
I will be honest; I cried buckets in the privacy of my dorm room after my parents left me in this foreign environment. However, it was not long until I was forced to dry my tears so that I could participate in the dorm’s orientation activities. As I slowly walked to the orientation hall, I felt self-conscious of how red my eyes were. It did not help further when I saw that the hall we had to congregate in was bustling with my new dorm mates. As I sat down, bursts of chatter and laughter enveloped me from all sides of the hall. Not wanting to be the odd one out, I tentatively put on a smile and tried to listen, hoping to have a chance to engage in the chatter too. Thankfully, it was not long until a few people introduced themselves to me and the orientation ice-breaker games started; shifting my previous sadness into joy.
However, within all these fun and games, one thought keeps on running within my mind, ‘How do I make friends?’ Regarding forming friendships, I prefer one-to-one interaction where I can get to know the other party more and not limited to superficial questions like, ‘what is your degree and major?’ However, with everyone packed into one room, it seemed impossible to have personal interaction. Despite the initial merriness and pleasantries from the icebreakers, I walked back to my room with a heavy heart as I did not manage to make a single friend yet.
Before I could reach my door, however, I bumped into my next-door neighbour. Without hesitation, I greeted her with a big smile on my face, to which she responded, although I quickly went into my room as it seemed that she was in a hurry. After that, I just laid on my bed, wishing I could stop the tears and settle down quickly. A few hours later, as I was unpacking the rest of my belongings, there was a knock on my door. Confusion struck me as I did not know anyone that well yet for them to come knocking to my room. Surprisingly, my next-door neighbour greeted me, and after a quick survey of my dishevelled room, she kindly offered a helping hand in unpacking my suitcase. With her help, not only I did I manage to unpack quickly, but a friendship between her and I also bloomed that night.
Finding a friend was the right step to settle to the Australian culture more comfortably because, as the week went on, not only I managed to forge new friendships through her, but I also became more confident and outgoing in meeting new people. The people I met consisted of both local and international students who felt the same way I did: nervous and wanting to make new friends too. Knowing how they felt made me more comfortable to express my true self to them, which subsequently helped my assimilation in Canberra. As my friendship circle extended, I embraced the mixture of cultures that surrounded me, particularly the Australian culture.
What a better way to settle into Australia than by having my local friends show me their culture? Their first attempt was to drag me into the dorm’s social nights. Back in Malaysia, I was the girl who did not go out at night and instead lazed around updating her Tumblr. In Australia, I plunged into a sea of bodies gyrating to the latest beats. At first, I did not know what to do except and stood in the corner, bopping my head awkwardly to the beat. My friends left me while they surveyed the bar, and I was at a loss on what to do because this was the first time I attended a social night. When my friends came back, they pushed me to the dance floor. Looking at how everyone was dancing with no care in the world, I decided to move around a bit because, hey, I didn’t see anyone else judging the way others dance. The social nights were a taste of the Australian culture but, apparently, it was just a mere sip of it. The true taste is hitting the pubs and then the clubs on particular nights; in Canberra, Thursday nights are the students’ time to party. Since we were first years, my friends’ main agenda was to party until we drop. Due to how frequently they hauled me to parties, I eventually developed an addiction to the dancing scene and a liking for Thursday nights.
Through these parties, I had the chance to interact with other types of people and became closer to some. Besides assimilating within the Thursday nights party culture, I fell in love in how the Australians dressed; dressing in whatever you like because no one is going to judge you. This contrasts to Malaysia, where I was never adventurous in what I wore back home. In Australia, I am free to wear whatever I like and express myself in any way. Due to this type of mentality Australians have, I had become less judgemental and more accepting, as what the Australian culture is.
There are many other events that helped me assimilated more in Australia. Though, I feel that forging these precious friendships were the biggest stepping stones in helping me settle in Australia and to appreciating a new culture. So, thank you to all my friends who stuck with me through thick and thin and made me the better and more adventurous person I am today.
Nadiah is a second-year cat lady, and enjoys dancing, stuffing her face and getting lost in music.
The biggest barrier to a decent handover is a 100 per cent tragic, and (often inevitable) burnout.
It is hard to aim for sustainability when student advocate positions within which we operate are so inherently unsustainable. So, step zero: try not to burnout, so that you have the energy to do a handover.
Individualise – the person comes first.
There has to be a handover relationship where you trust and share with each other useful info in a way that works for you both. Have a conversation about how to navigate the whole process of handover. Do informal coffee chats if that works for you, or a more structured timeline over weeks if written plans make more sense.
The person receiving the handover should take more of an active role here even though they are there to soak up all the outgoing human’s wisdoms. But, actually, the outgoing person probably would really appreciate some pointers on how to get certain things through, or what the most pressing worries/confusions/lack of information are. There’s also a power imbalance here where the new person is very reliant on the outgoing person for everything – so definitely address that and make space for the new person to shape the whole process.
Tell the person you’re handing over to start compiling their handover straight away – even better – tell them to remember what factors went into their decision to commit to the position so that they can assist others in navigating the pre-commitment-to-role considerations (which are arguably the most important part of the whole stupol thing).
As you settle into a new role, it’s really hard to remember what used to be confusing or hard to navigate. Revisit journals or friends who you’ve talked to earlier in the year if that helps to jog your memory about things that you forgot to document as you went along.
Decide what should be documented (and document it!) and what you need to pass on in conversational/other forms (you can be creative here).
You will need to formalise some records: these are things like account information/log ins, constitutions/other governance documents, financial records, forms and processes. Don’t worry if there are gaps – just be clear about where they exist so the next person can fill them in.
Other things are more sensitive like the dynamics of working relationships, hacks, tricks and tactics that you’d rather not formalise/record in writing, and generally more personal things like navigating personal relationships, self-care and your own expectations/feelings about the role. These are maybe better delivered in person, or in other more creative forms. I’ll never forget the little care package that I received with a small candle, a journal and a pair of happy socks – they have gotten me through lots of hard times.
Set healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are key to any good relationship – you don’t want the new person to defer to you or be constantly coming back to you, but also you want them to feel comfortable to reach out for when they genuinely need assistance and advice. Make sure you are clear about what aspects you are completely giving over – and when, and what doors are still open for chats, support and advice.
Keep most things – especially if you didn’t engage with it
The work existed before you realised it was going on, and the work will continue after you retire from stupol – the work is most important, so try to keep good records of what you found useful (and why) and pass on the things that you didn’t find super helpful. You want to use your discretion in narrowing down things for the person you are handing over to, but also remember that people can have different priorities and ways of approaching the role, and that your organisation can experience a lot of change that might make some information more useful some years than others. Pass on the backlogged ideas that you didn’t get to see through in your term, try to prune and neaten some of the historical records of the organisation and try to add things so that you are leaving the organisation with more than when you arrived.
Comments Off on ‘Amateurs Talk Strategy, Professionals Talk Logistics’: In Conversation with Dr John Minns
To most ANU students, Dr John Minns is better known for his work in the Centre for Latin American Studies and the College of Arts and Social Sciences than for his involvement in refugee politics. However, an activist for most of his life, John is currently one of the leaders of the Canberra Refugee Action Committee, a component of an Australia-wide organisation that describes itself as working to raise public awareness about the government’s obligations to give refuge to asylum seekers and treat them with dignity and humanity.
In John’s own words, RAC ‘is really a multi-faceted campaign.’ Its primary strength lies in its use of working groups, constituencies within the Canberra community based around similarities and interests, such as Unionists for Refugees or even the Australian National University RAC. For John, organising in this way ‘means you can do some things in the campaign, but you don’t have to do them all.’ Additionally, ‘people are more easily able to relate to and talk to their own constituency.’ John uses the example of the Faith-based working group, which uses parables and Christianity to start conversations about refugees, which John, an atheist, wouldn’t otherwise use.
While we talk about the RAC and the different campaigns John has involved himself in, I’m struck by his focus on the activists themselves. In our conversation, John only briefly mentions the demonstrations he has been a part of, and other aspects of the RAC campaign, but discusses at length the importance of getting more and more people involved.
‘By creating more activists you get a bigger campaign, with more momentum, and then you can put more pressure on the government or at least on one side. You can’t have a strategy to change the government’s mind without the troops. People talk about strategy all the time, but they have nothing to implement the strategy with.’
‘What we are doing in the campaign is trying to get activists who can win over the next lot of people. Activists who are successful are activists that are firm and active on the issue, and live next door to people that can be won over, or are members of their family, or part of their churches, or even their classmates.’
This talk of building campaigns by building numbers is particularly interesting in the university context. It’s no secret that university students have historically had a reputation for being politically active. John himself began his career as an activist as a student in the 1970s Queensland Bjelke-Petersen era, when street marches were banned and John, along with 2000 others, were arrested for protest marching against the ban. But this momentum seems to drop off with graduation, and many organisations struggle to retain activists in the long term. According to John, this is explained by the fact that ‘any social movement, any campaign, has a social turnover. It’s not like having a job.’
Again, he comes back to the importance of recruitment in activism. ‘You need people coming in the front door because it is inevitable given the nature of life that people will be moving out the back door. You can’t expect people to maintain the same level of activism throughout their whole life, in a way you have to accept that there is no magic that is going to keep people in activism forever.’
But John follows this up by emphasising the ‘little bit of magic you can use; you can keep activism not only relevant and useful but also interesting.’ He uses a metaphor of oxygen masks on planes to explain his point, ‘you need to look after the wellbeing of activists before you can recruit anybody else. If people are going to the same things over and over again it’s not that they get physically tired of doing it, but they sense a certain futility with it.’
‘When you conduct a campaign, what you’re selling is not just the policy that you’re pushing. It’s not just what’s on the leaflet that you’re trying to get them to buy. What you’re selling is the fact that you’re handing out the leaflet, because that’s what you’re trying to get them to do as well. So it has to be an interesting product.’
I ask John what he thinks is the biggest obstacle to activism in general. Part of me expects him to talk about time constraints or a lack of interest. But he doesn’t miss a beat.
‘I think the biggest obstacle is disillusionment with the political system to the extent that people think that they can’t change it. That you can’t really effect any change because nothing you do will make any difference. But that’s a broader and justified disillusionment with what you might call democracy.’
I’m surprised John calls this disillusionment ‘justified’, seeing as he has himself dedicated so much time and energy to campaigning. But he agrees with this disillusionment because ‘otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting in a world which is still pumping out so much CO2. We wouldn’t be sitting in an Australia which didn’t have equal marriage. We wouldn’t be sitting in an Australia which didn’t allow euthanasia. All these things are widely popular.’
But, perhaps surprisingly, this doesn’t mean that John is pessimistic about affecting change. For him, ‘the answer is that what people are seeing as politics is the formal system. Seismic shifts in society do not usually begin there. They might be completed there, but they usually start with people who are talking about what they can do to get an activist campaign going. If you go back to the end of slavery, or votes for women, or labour rights, or gay law reform, or anything like that, I can guarantee you that not a single one of them began in a chamber of parliament. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t eventually happen.’
‘Instead of looking at what hasn’t changed, look at what has, and how.’
On that note, I ask John what advice he would give to young people looking to get involved in activism. With a laugh, he immediately talks about getting involved with RAC, and you can see how passionate he is about his work. More seriously, he adds that from his experience, what is most important is to get a structure. Referencing his international relations roots, he quotes, ‘the amateurs talk about strategy, the professionals talk logistics.’ For John, ‘doing politics like this isn’t about moving pieces around on a chessboard and thinking about clever ways you can talk to a parliamentarian to get them to change their minds. It’s about having thousands of people out on the street. And some money to do things with. Prozaac things like having people to do things with, who have skills and who have time.’
You can find out more about RAC on their website, refugeeaction.org, or join their Facebook groups, www.facebook.com/CanberraRAC/ and www.facebook.com/ANURefugeeActionCommittee/.
Some answers are edited for clarity.
Comments Off on I’m a (Not) Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here
The plane touches down into the Sydney Airport, and I sigh internally, breathing in the familiarity and safety of return. For me, Australia is a safe place: I speak the language, and I know the culture. It’s where my home, family and friends are. I love to travel, and I especially love to explore countries and cultures distinct from my own. China was no exception, but there was one negative experience that sticks in my mind.
Within my first 20 minutes in Asia, in Singapore, a Vietnamese man asked for a photo with me. I joked later that he was my first fan. At The China House in Tianjin, I asked another fan’s friend to take a photo on my phone too. A woman asked for selfies with me twice at Mount Taishan. My Chinese friend kept joking that I was famous. It was funny, but it felt strange to be treated like an undeserving celebrity.
The gazes and not-so-subtle photos became an ordinary part of my life. In Australia, I would never tolerate it, but I put it up to cultural difference. It’s all part of the travel experience for a young white woman, and it’s less irritating if you joke about it.
Then I started to hear from multiple people that a man had been lurking on the street between our hotel and university, following and grabbing the white women in our group. He’d grabbed someone’s bum from behind as she waited to cross the street; he’d followed another pair closely until they ran away.
One morning, I was walking with my roommate, when a man walked up fast from beside me, invasively brushed against my side with his forearm, did an 180-degree turn and walked back past me. Seemingly, he had made a v-line for me. As I walked home alone from class that day, the eyes on me were signs of a threat. My vulnerability was too much. I got back to my room and cried.
I talked to other girls in my group. It was the same man. This was reassuring in a sense, but it also meant we had a consistent threat, and we were on constant lookout. The walk to class was no longer simple or enjoyable. The men in our group suggested that they accompany us to class. This was not the point.
We told the convenor, a woman from NTU in Singapore, and she recommended we go to the police. Although most of the others thought it would be useless, two of us went along with a student guide from Tianjin University. We entered a police station thick with cigarette smoke, despite the ‘no smoking’ signs in every room. Of the 40-odd police officers’ photos displayed on the wall, only two were women. The only woman we saw in the flesh was the cleaner – picking cigarette butts off the floor as she mopped. Our guide translated as we explained what had happened, and the officer asked us endless questions. Where did it happen? What time was it exactly? How tall was he? Why didn’t you call the police straight away? They were only interested in our experiences; we weren’t allowed to speak for our friends. I was worried that our guide might mistranslate something and make them dismiss the whole case.
Eventually, they decided to look at the video footage – one advantage of China’s heightened surveillance. They flipped between shots of the surrounding streets before telling us that, even if the cameras did catch something, the police couldn’t arrest him unless he did something ‘more extreme.’ They told us to try and catch it on camera next time. Before we left, frustrated, the police officer laboured to try to teach us how to say ‘leave me alone’ in Chinese. If only we’d thought of that!
The next few days, we noticed officers and cars on the way to class. The next time we saw the man, he walked on to the road to avoid us. It seemed that, despite our unpleasant experience at the station, the police had spoken to him and increased their presence. Suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised, as were my friends back home, particularly those with Chinese heritage. A few days later, I got an email from the ANU, saying they hoped I was okay and offering me phone counselling if I wanted it. Others on the trip received no such emails from their universities. I have no clue what it would have been like if this was in Canberra, or indeed if the perpetrator had been a fellow student, rather than a random Chinese man.
Despite the follow-up, the experience at the police station was incredibly negative. It’s hard to explain it succinctly, but there was a strong vibe that they thought we were wasting their time. It was frustrating for me, but I know I was lucky to be a white person in a non-white country and not vice versa. Imagine being an immigrant to Australia, not a tourist, and being assaulted by a local. Imagine being asked why you didn’t call the police straight away, when you don’t have a full grasp of the language they speak. Imagine being scared to call the police, because they don’t treat you the same way as people of their race. My Chinese-American friend told me later that she never feels comfortable walking on the street in the USA as a woman of colour. The plight of minorities, racial or otherwise, is worse in this regard and this is clear from the survey results released this month.
I have heard many horrific stories of police reactions to sexual harassment and assault, in Australia and abroad. I can understand why so many go unreported, and it breaks my heart that the system so often fails to protect people. I hope this month’s AHRC report doesn’t dishearten survivors, and that it leads to better responses, at least in Australia.
This past week, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Survey on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault has been a topic of discussion across many university circles. What shocks me most is that there are still people on this campus who found these results shocking at all.
Survivors, friends of survivors, student representatives, and staff members who have received disclosures are all painstakingly aware of the horrifying excerpts of cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment on our campus. For us, these results merely confirm what we have suspected for decades.
I am lucky to have a voice and would like to share on behalf of some students who have been silenced due to the mistreatment of their disclosure of sexual assault. They have confided in me and are comfortable with me sharing their stories anonymously to raise awareness of the unfortunately gross mishandling of sexual assault and sexual harassment that our peers here at the ANU have endured.
A Senior Resident at a residential hall was accused of assaulting a student. The hall did not remove the SR from the hall of residence; rather, he chose to leave weeks after rumours of the alleged assault circulated. In another instance, a fellow resident and alleged abuser was appointed to SR after the administration of the residential hall had been made aware of the abuse. Unsurprisingly, the AHRC survey found a common theme of perpetrators abusing positions of power. Not only is staff engaging in this behaviour towards students an area of concern. The survey also identified instances of senior students in leadership positions sexually assaulting or sexually harassing other students in clubs and societies, at Uni Games, on orientation camps and within residential colleges.
There are also other types of power imbalances when it comes to perpetrators and survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The AHCRC survey highlighted that students with disability were more likely to have been sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016 than students without disability. As the Disabilities Officer, I am deeply disturbed to know that in some instances students have even been declined special consideration for assessments when applying on the basis of having been sexually assaulted.
There are far too many incidences of survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment not being offered support. Rather, at times they are told that little, to nothing, can done about these allegations and are recommended to leave if they feel threatened or unsafe in their current living situation. Let’s get one thing straight: no survivor should ever be forced to be in the presence of or make peace with their perpetrator, especially not when they are being encouraged to do so purely on the institution’s best interests. In the above two SR incidents, the residential halls preferred to stand neutral between the survivor and the perpetrator. Make no mistake, neutrality favours the perpetrator.
When, if any, in any other crime is the victim blamed and ostracised?
These mishandled cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment discourage other survivors within the community fromto disclosinge and create a barrier from receiving much-needed support. Our institution continues to silence survivors, but we can no longer continue this battle. I came to Australia to study at the ANU in hopes of escaping the violence towards women and lack of respect for my education as a woman in Pakistan. Yet, I personally know two students who were left to drop out of the ANU due not only to the lack of support but even the accusational attitude that they were met with when disclosing to the university. How, in today’s Australia, can sexual assault and sexual harassment still prevent women from receiving an equal and fair education to those of their peers? To paraphrase, how does our university allow perpetrators to continue studying at the ANU while victims of a crime are targeted and left unsupported to the extent that some have found it impossible to complete their tertiary education?
Of the students who were sexually assaulted at the ANU, 93 per cent did not make a formal report or complaint to anyone at the university. I am stunned that the horror stories we are aware of only shape four per cent (three per cent preferred not to say) of the disclosed cases of sexual assault on campus. This alone should compel the ANU to advocate for its large community of survivors to encourage them to seek support rather than be made to feel like a liability.
As I mentioned at the Speak Out and Sit In by ANUSA and PARSA, I echo what fellow survivors have said. There are no congratulations to be had at the release of this survey nor are comparisons between universities appropriate. We demand the ANU to do better. We can no longer work around mishandled cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment. I demand that the safety of students become an utmost priority and can only hope that the ANU will follow through and continue to take ANUSA and PARSA’s demands seriously. We need to finally recognise sexual assault and sexual harassment for what it is, a crime, and take appropriate action against perpetrators of this crime.
To all survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment: we believe you, it is not your fault, and you are not alone. Please reach out to available resources for support during this painful and infuriating time.
Aji is the 2017 ANU Disabilities Officer.
The Disabilities Student Association is the only on-campus group run by students with disability, for students with disability. Aji can be contacted for all non-urgent matters. She can provide confidential support, referrals to local professional support services, and can offer assistance when navigating the ANU’s support systems. Aji can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this story has raised any concerns, you can contact:
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line
(02) 6247 2525
(02) 6125 2442
1800 737 732
ANU Women’s Department
Contact the Women’s Officer, Holly Zhang:
– For non-urgent inquiries: email@example.com
– For urgent matters: 0467 092 808
In the weeks preceding and following the release of the Change the Course results, a lot of myths about sexual assault have been bantered around the ANU campus and internet comment sections. Restorative ANU are here to bust a few that are particularly close to our heart:
Myth: Only the police can deal with sexual assault.
Fact: The ANU has rules about misconduct (mostly found in the Discipline Rule (2015)). If an ANU student victimises or harasses another student, they are committing misconduct. The ANU can investigate an incident, come to a finding, and take steps against students who are found to have committed misconduct. A student who misbehaves can be: excluded from campus, have their enrolment suspended or terminated, and the ANU can notify other agencies or organisations about the finding.
Universities can create administrative systems that empower survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and still afford alleged perpetrators procedural fairness. Unlike the court system, universities can’t throw people in jail – and so findings of misconduct do not need to be held to the same standard of proof as criminal convictions of sexual assault.
In addition to this, universities have a duty of care towards their students, and the ANU has a responsibility to foster a safe learning environment. This includes dealing with sexual harassment and assault, even when the victim does not want to go to the police. This was reiterated by the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, in his statement following the release of the survey results – his office will be directly writing to each university to determine what steps they are taking to uphold their legal obligation to promote a safe learning environment.
Myth: Even if they’re not the only ones who can deal with it, police are still best equipped to deal with sexual assault.
Fact: It is estimated that in Australia, fewer than one in 100 sexual assaults will result in a criminal conviction.
In an adversarial system that prioritises the rights of the accused, victims are not put in the centre of the alleged assault, but they are witnesses. And, in some cases, their bodies are even treated as evidence. When the impacts of trauma start to show, such as memory fog, dissociation, or your body freezing, the process regards this as contradictory evidence.
Trials can take years, and universities deflect responsibility by insisting on going to the police and that they ‘can’t do anything’ in the meantime. Years of walking around campus, going to classes, trying to live your life – all while seeing your perpetrator face no repercussions for their actions.
Convictions are often lenient. Many cases don’t progress to court because they are not ‘perfect victims’ – because they couldn’t remember what happened, because they were assaulted by a partner, because they waited ‘too long’ to speak out, or because it’s just a case of ‘he said, she said’.
Authorities tell victims that, because their perpetrator believed that they were consenting, then their experience does not constitute assault – even if ‘in [their] own mind’, they did not consent. Perpetrators are allowed to walk away, to never think of what they did ever again – but for victims, ‘the reality doesn’t get to be over … I don’t get to know who I would be today had this not happened to me, and I mourn for that person’.
This is a traumatising and emotionally exhausting process. Who would blame any survivor of violence for not using the criminal justice system when it treats them so abhorrently?
Myth: ‘I don’t associate with people like that’; ‘Rapists are monsters who hide in the bushes and attack at night’; ‘He’s a decent guy – I don’t think he could do what she said he did.’
Fact: Change the Course shows what we have been saying for a long time: most victims of sexual violence are women, and most perpetrators are men. More than half of perpetrators attend the same university as their victim. There are rapists, sexual harassers, stalkers and other perpetrators of sexual violence at the ANU. And they’re not hiding in the bushes; they go to your tutes, they live on res, they hang out at the ANU Bar. They’re your Facebook friends. How do you find out who among us are the perpetrators behind the statistics we’re seeing? Unfortunately, women and queer* people often only find out once it’s too late – we find out only once we’ve become the victims of sexual harassment or assault.
If you don’t think you know any rapists or enablers – listen to the women and non-binary people in your life. Even when they’re talking about your mate. Even when you don’t want to believe it. Even when you can come up with a million reasons it didn’t happen that way – listen to them.
Myth: Restorative ANU wants everyone to hug it out and let monsters roam our campus
Fact: By doing nothing, our university already lets monsters roam our campus. Perpetrators are allowed to recommit as they face little to no disciplinary action – they are allowed to take up leadership positions in Clubs, ResComs, and become SRs. They are allowed to move around to different colleges. They are allowed to continue attending our university, and they are allowed to graduate. Many victims of violence do not get this opportunity.
The ANU did not comply with the largest FOI request in history – Sunday Night revealed that hundreds of complaints had been made at universities across Australia, with little disciplinary action against perpetrators.
How many incidents have there been at the ANU? How many expulsions or removals? Change the Course indicates that there were 116 incidents at the ANU, but this is only out of the approximately 1500 people surveyed. This means that the number is likely to be much higher, and the number of perpetrators who continue to roam our campus remains terrifying.
Restorative processes can only take place when every person involved in an incident agrees. Perpetrators sitting down and having a conversation about what they did wrong is something that most never have to do, and in a conference, there’s nowhere for them to hide. Sometimes, restorative practice doesn’t involve the victim and perpetrator, but the victim and their surrounding community (people they lived with and were affected by the incident, family and friends, those who supported them, those who supported the perpetrator), and the institution that betrayed and mistreated them.
We don’t want everyone to ‘hug it out’. We want an apology, and a commitment to do better. We don’t want press conferences; we want concrete action.
The ANU can do better
The news that the ANU will fund external reviews into both the University-wide policy, as well as each residence, gives some of us activists a little bit of hope. Now is our chance to ask the university to show us what ‘zero-tolerance’ actually means, and see consequences for perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment at our university.
We want an apology from the University for how it has treated us. We want support for survivors and student advocates who are expected to do the work of professional service providers. We want disciplinary action for perpetrators. We want a restorative process so we can finally start healing.
If this story has raised any concerns, you can contact:
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line
(02) 6247 2525
(02) 6125 2442
1800 737 732
ANU Women’s Department
Contact the Women’s Officer, Holly Zhang:
– For non-urgent inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
– For urgent matters: 0467 092 808
my hands touch
m y s e l f
running warm skin
slipping down like honeysuckle on summer’s first night.
what for so long i only thought
o t h e r ’ s
could approach and take away.
eye off, own in their enlarged hands.
hands so large they smother every pocket and pore my body is allowed,
too large, hands
t o o l a r g e .
a body i only minimised and hurt and
even if my brain
in its state of altered eternity
forgot, muddled, pretended to
what stranger’s hands that touched meant to
my body, that now
forever accepts, bows down
to those with no thoughts, no feelings, no trust
d a r e d
they don’t deserve what i don’t know. so now
and own my legs that walk across
m o u n t a i n s
and arms that comfort those
who have also been touched by enlarged hands.
and my touch, my s k i n it is my own.