By Samuel Wright

Content warning: this article contains mention of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and institutional betrayal.

A number of residential halls will take part in a strike on ANU’s Open Day this Saturday. The strikes are part of a campus-wide campaign by halls, ANUSA, and the Women’s Department to encourage ANU to take action on issues concerning current and prospective students.

The Interhall Council (IHC), ANUSA, and the Women’s Department announced the plan with a Facebook event last night. In the event description, the IHC said that significant issues include inconsistency and inadequacy in pastoral care models, lack of communication in regard to room tariffs, and a lack of consultation with residents. 

In a letter sent to prominent University administrative staff today, IHC described the current pastoral care system as “inconsistent” and “under-resourced”, and said that it “places an unfair strain on student leaders”. Currently, some residential halls do not have Deputy Heads of Hall, and there are differences in the ratios of Senior Residents to students. IHC called for more information on how “money is being spent and the contractual agreements which underpin our residential experience”. The letter also asked for “more student consultation on key issues”.

A number of halls’ residents committees, including those at Fenner and Wright, will not be offering tours to prospective residents. All halls will be supporting the action through measures such as giving out pink stickers and badges saying “Do Better ANU”, talking to prospective residents and their families about the issues, giving out informational pamphlets, and encouraging residents to wear pink. Observer understands that the colour pink was chosen as it is not an official colour of any of the halls.

Fenner Hall Residents Committee President Patrick Doyle said that the Hall will be conducting no tours on the day and will not participate in any “normal student functions”. Doyle also said that Fenner would participate in the IHC coordinated activities and that space will be allocated for residents to “write comments and highlight specific issues that have affected them”. 

Wright Hall will also not be conducting any tours, but will have virtual tours available online and will provide tours for prospective students later on in the year, according to a letter sent to residents by the Wright Hall Association of Members (WHAM). The letter makes sigificant reference to survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment, noting “how little the ANU has done to support them”. WHAM also wrote in the letter that “without continued pressure, it is unlikely that substantive structural change will occur in the way the University deals with its student residences and halls”. 

Ella Gillespie, President of the Burton and Garran Members Association (BAGMA), said in a statement that B&G will be “turning the whole hall pink with decorations, chalk and merchandise”, but will still be running tours and participating in the majority of Open Day activities. Gillespie said that the decision was made “in light of the consequences of university action currently being felt at B&G” and that the decision “best reflects the B&G community”. 

Ursula Hall Residents’ Committee President Emma McGrath-Cohen told Observer that Ursula Hall would be taking action “similar to B&G”. She stated that the hall would still be offering tours as “we still have our deputy head which was the main inciting incident for the strike”. “Ursies is very supportive of the strike action being taken by some of the other halls,” she said.

President of the Burgmann Residents Association Rebecca Long has said that Burgmann will be “standing in solidarity” with the IHC, but will continue to participate in usual Open Day activities – including tours – due to its “unique structure being affiliated and not owned by the ANU.”

Women’s Officers Nupur Apte and Siang Jin Law  said the Women’s Department is “proud to stand in solidarity with IHC and ANUSA to strike against the university this Open Day”. “The Women’s Department will be coordinating a series of actions that will convey our frustrations on how the university has consistently let down its students and especially so in the SASH space,” they said. The Officers told Observer that ANU’s slow reponse to sexual assault and sexual harassment leaves survivors “vulnerable and unsafe”. They also said that this slow response from the University creates an “unfair burden on student advocates to provide support where it has failed to do so”.

The last time residential halls had a strike on Open Day was in 2014. This strike was over ANU introducing fee increases and changes to the admissions/allocations system with “no consultation”.

ANU did not provide comment before time of publication.

This article has been updated to include a response from ANU, provided after the article was first published:

The Australian National University is committed to giving all its students the highest-quality campus experience. The University is also committed to fostering a campus and community where students thrive, and are safe to live, study, work and play.

This commitment includes all our student residences. 

The independent Nous Review of ANU residences found a strong and positive culture in residential halls and most students have a high level of satisfaction with residential life. The review also identified some areas of improvement. 

ANU is working closely with students to address some concerns they have raised about their residential experience. 

The University has committed to holding another student forum, a review of the residential model, including the role of deputy heads of residences, increasing consultation and communication with residents, and the release of individual recommendations from the 2019 Review of ANU Residences. 

ANU looks forward to working with students to continue to improve the pastoral and residential experience of the University’s halls.

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