SRC 7: “Hostility” and “Bullying” Creates “Unsafe” Culture
By Eleanor Ellis
Additional reporting by Mackenzie Watkins
CW: Discrimination, ableism, racism, transphobia
The final SRC meeting for 2022 was held Wednesday 12 October. The meeting began on a positive note with President Christian Flynn praising ANUSA’s involvement in campaigns and surveys, also noting the effective structural reforms made within the Department.
However, the meeting quickly turned to conversations about the hostile culture of SRC meetings, with many Department Officers stating they felt “unsafe” to even enter the room.
Other issues raised included the lack of support that officers receive, as well as the amount of work they do for – according to International Students’ Department (ISD) Officer Aarka Khan – “$3 an hour”.
Creating a safer space and “improving conditions for officers” will be a major task for ANUSA next year, according to current President Christian Flynn.
General Secretary Ben Yates – and Flynn’s successor for 2023 – stated that the “growing open hostility to Departments from people other than Socialist Alternative… [is] a really troubling development,” and that it has been difficult to “diagnose what’s wrong” and “imagine how this space can be a safe space”.
This was echoed by Treasurer Jaya Ryan, who said “it’s not a safe space for BIPOC people,” but he is “not entirely sure how we’d go about fixing that”.
These sentiments were supported by Indigenous Officer Katchmirr Russell, BIPOC Officer Chanel Nguyen, Disabilities Co-Officers Mira Robson and Maddison McCarthy – notably, as Russell pointed out, due to the Departments being representative of “marginalised people”.
Russell stated “not once have [they] felt safe in ANUSA” and that they have “no Indigenous students who even want to attend an SRC, let alone be an Officer… where they are disrespected, not listened to, and sidelined”.
Russell has been Indigenous Officer for the past two years, and said “it has taken [them] those 2 years to even get [their] voice heard in this space and [they’re] still not listened to”.
They said next year’s officers will “have to start from scratch in carving a space for themselves instead of going into a space that is made safe for them” and advised the 2023 SRC, “You better fucking hell respect and support them, because you sure as hell haven’t done enough”.
BIPOC Officer Chanel Nguyen, joined the meeting from Zoom and said she will not be attending future SRC meetings in person “because SRC is not a safe space”. She continued, “the fact that so many BIPOC people in this room have expressed they haven’t felt comfortable, haven’t felt safe, or been able to articulate themselves in a political capacity within a student union is incredibly disappointing”.
Women’s Officer Avan Daruwalla stated she has “had a rough two years [when] it could’ve been zero”. She encouraged ANUSA to be kind to each other, supportive of other Officer’s projects, and to “actively be aware of microaggressions”.
International Students’ Officer Aarfa Khan said her role was “the most stressful thing [she’s] done in four years,” and that she was “overwhelmed” and “wasn’t supported”. Khan continued, “It’s literally sad [that] if someone steps up to the role of representing the community, they don’t feel comfortable or respected”.
She firmly stated “This is a lesson for next year: Respect Department Officers”.
Environment Officer Freya Brown stated, compared to most other Officers, “[she] has it easy… [because] there’s not the emotional labour of having your identity attached.” However, she continued, “The [Environment Collective] is not a safe space. People in the EC continually make it an unsafe space”. She said she has the “emotional labour of dealing with people who are scared of [joining],” noting the poor engagement numbers resulting from this environment.
Disabilities Student Association (DSA) Co-Officers, Mira Robson and Maddison McCarthy, said “ANUSA has a long way to go to make this space safe for… our collective,” noting that the ANUSA office “isn’t even physically accessible” and that “[they] have experienced ableism in this room, in this space”.
This topic of conversation became increasingly heated over discussions for Motion 5.5 of the agenda. Carter Chryse, a member of the EC, moved the motion that “ANUSA condemns the scrapping of mandatory isolation”.
Yates and McCarthy raised an amendment to the motion to include the phrase “ANUSA will consult with the DSA, staff and other students to ensure policy around mask wearing in ANUSA spaces reflects the need to protect immunocompromised and disabled users of ANUSA spaces”.
Robson argued that the DSA should be central to the consultation process because “the reality of COVID is that it does disproportionately affect disabled and immunocompromised people [and] our collective needs to be at the centre of this conversation”. Robson affirmed their support of the motion, but said it needed to be amended as their collective is at higher risk.
Chryse objected to this amendment, stating “We don’t think the DSA should be formally consulted because we want this motion to represent a particular set of politics…This motion represents an argument about solidarity [and] that student unions should argue for the rights of ordinary people for public health above everything else… It’s not just about masks in ANUSA, but also the set of politics that ANUSA represents, arguing for a broader set of politics”.
McCarthy, who up until this point had not spoken to her amendment, then responded to Chryse, “I have tried to be civil in these meetings… [but] you have proven over and over again that you don’t give a shit about DSA students and I’m tired of it. I don’t know what politics you think we’re trying to push by stopping our collective from dying of COVID. All we want is what you want as well and I don’t understand why you wouldn’t bring us into this conversation”.
McCarthy continued that neither Chryse nor the DSA can “speak for all disabled voices,” but that she and Robson can consult with more voices through the DSA, which is “not pushing any political agenda”.
Chryse repeated that they did not want to formally include DSA consultation into the motion “because it represents a certain section of politics. It is inaccurate to say the DSA represents all disabled students on campus, the majority-” at which point they were cut off by Vice-President Chido Nyakuengama.
Nyakuengama raised a procedural to first vote on the amendment, and then return to the conversation unless it passes, which Chryse said “is pretty censorious”. Nyakuengama fired back, “I don’t care! I don’t care if it’s undemocratic! You’re bullying people and being a dick!” Then, addressing the rest of ANUSA, said “Practise what we preach – We can’t go on about how unsafe places are and then allow unsafe behaviour”.
The SRC permitted Chryse to continue speaking, who stated “Well, I think we can all agree that was pretty outrageous”.
Chryse and McCarthy both spoke further to the amendment, before the SRC moved to a vote on the amendment, which passed, and a vote on the amended motion, which also passed.
Overworked and Underpaid
Several members also expressed feeling overwhelmed by their workloads, especially those who also have to work other jobs due to the low stipend paid to officers.
Both Khan (ISD Officer) and Nguyen (BIPOC Officer) expressed passion for their roles and the communities they represent, but that they could not achieve what they wanted to due to a lack of departmental support and because the “stipend is incredibly low”.
Nguyen said “we’re not doing it for the money – we’re doing it because we genuinely care about the community [and] improving the wellbeing of students”. Department Officers, according to Khan, receive “a bare minimum wage [of] $3 an hour,” which she said is “unethical – that is one word for it. It’s just straight unethical and it shouldn’t be the case”.
According to Russell, many officers are “low-SES” and have to work other jobs, on top of their Department roles and university studies.
Russell (Indigenous Officer) said they’ve “done their best, but that best is so minimal,” call the stipend “a pittance” and that they could have achieved “so much more in [their] role” if they were paid enough, allowing them to dedicate more of their time to the Department.
Going forward, Russell said “the only way to even start making anything better is to fund the Officers, fund the Department Executives. [They] do so much work. Just pay them for that”.
DSA officers “speaking as co-officers” said they “couldn’t even fathom doing this alone”. Robson said Officers work “at least the equivalent of a full-time job” and that they “deserve a liveable wage”.
Brown (Environment Officer) also said that while some officers can do these roles “and get paid fucking $5 an hour,” most of them “can’t do full-time uni, do these jobs properly, and be financially independent. It just doesn’t work. Something has to give [and] its either sleep, or mental health, or failing uni, or physical health, or, heaven forbid, all of the above”.
Yates praised the Officer’s “astonishing amount of intellect and clarity and vision and radicalism [and] skills,” which he claims is “incredibly underappreciated by a huge number of people in this SRC”.
On top of the time-consuming nature of their work, Nguyen also pointed to the fact that some Officers “have to deal with very traumatic disclosures concerning issues [including] racism, ableism, transphobia [and] the fact [they] are paid so little but have to deal with stuff that serious is insane”.
This sentiment was echoed by Queer* Officer Remi Prica, who felt they were “thrown in the deep end and pretty much drowned,” saying “it takes so much emotional energy to be a representative for a marginalised group”.
Russell said they “only have one vote, only one voice, and that voice can do an awful lot in keeping a predominantly white, colonialist institution in check,” but they “haven’t been able to do that to the best of [their] extent”.
Relevant to the issue of representative, Ryan (Treasurer) claimed ANUSA is “not representative of the student body in a number of ways,” one of them being “in terms of race, we tend to be whiter than the student population, certainly less Indigenous”.
Brown (Environment Officer) also spoke more about students’ lack of engagement with the EC, stating that, not only are they “scared,” but that the “activism in this space, this room is so detached from real activism and what students actually want on campus.” Brown stated the SRC is full of “theory bros” who need to “ground it in the people, ground it in the community”.
Regarding Motion 5.4 of the agenda, which proclaims “ANUSA endorses COP27 speak-out,” Brown said she was “disappointed by Labor’s inaction”. Brown noted the “capacity” ANUSA showed leading up to the election, calling for that activism in the COP27 speak-out about the impact of the climate crisis in Pakistan.
Similarly, Michael Matheson-Deng, one of the General Representatives, wrote in his report that he “loved listening to all the virtue signalling and action-for-the-sake-of-action” in SRC meetings this year.
In the meeting, Matheson-Deng said the SRC needs to “take a step back and realise… how can we actually help students at our uni, instead of talking about what we can post on our Facebook page to make us look a little better”. He questioned ANUSA, “when was the last time we ran a fundraiser for these [or] did something to help people on campus”.
On a more positive note, Flynn and Yates praised the work done by the Women’s Department on the ‘Too Little Too Late’ campaign. In particular, Yates called the National Student Safety Survey an “incredibly powerful format” that embodies “the essence of how [ANUSA] should operate – in massive movements that empower people, give strength to people [and] remind us that we actually aren’t here to control student’s lives but to give student’s control over their own lives”.
Education Officer Beatrice Tucker also spoke about the positive outcomes of the recent School of Art and Design sit-in demonstration.
Russell spoke about their involvement with the university’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) committee, stating they have begun to include recommendations about “Indigenous students’ safety and wellbeing” and acknowledging racism on campus.
ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 or [email protected]
Student Safety & Wellbeing: [email protected]
ANU Health: 02 6125 3598 or 02 6178 0400
ANUSA: [email protected]
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Correction: The original article used incorrect pronouns for an officer. This has now been fixed. We apologise for the error
Graphics by Will Novak
Want to get involved? You can write articles, photograph, livestream or do web support. We’re also looking for someone to yell “extra!” outside Davey Lodge at 1AM. Apply today!