Why can’t we elect our Equity and Diversity Representatives?

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Words || Angela Heathcote

In 2016 it was decided that the Women’s Officer of the Student Representative Committee (SRC) would not be head of the Women’s Collective by default. Instead, given the Women’s Officer at the time was expected to graduate, active members of the Collective felt it was a time for a fresh start. The idea of electing a Women’s Collective president and an accompanying Executive quickly gained traction, and became fully realised at the end of last year. Jasmine Noud was duly elected as President and continues to serve in this position alongside a strong Executive. Every candidate for each position was asked to provide details of what they intended to do with their role, how they would improve the experience of women on campus, as well as how they felt they could raise the Collective from the dead. And of course, each member of the Women’s Collective was given the right to vote and have their say.

This begs the question, why can’t we elect the Women’s Officer, the LGBTQI+ Representative, the Indigenous Representative and all other Equity and Diversity representatives onto the SRC? Historically, these representatives are the most radical on Australian campuses. Notoriously, they frustrate University Executives, relentlessly campaign for their respective constituents and are by far the hardest to intimidate. Macquarie University has a storied history of such activism. In 1973 Jeff Hayler, an outspoken gay activist ran for a position on the Macquarie University Student Council (MUSC), and despite an enormous homophobic campaign against him, he won the position on the Council. Because of his leadership, Macquarie University was at the forefront of the Gay Liberation Movement throughout much of the 1970s. This is just one example of  effective activism on campus made possible by strong representatives.

The idea that these positions are appointed by the University is, frankly, disturbing. Currently, Equity and Diversity representatives are appointed by an ‘Independent Selection Panel’ consisting of two Macquarie University staff members and three to four Alumni, although this does apparently vary. Before the dissolving of the Macquarie University Student Representative Association (MUSRA) in 2012, these positions were elected by the students. MUSRA was a watered down version of the student union, which was dissolved in 2007 due to the Victor Ma fiasco.

Essentially, MUSRA was a sub-committee of U@MQ, which has been described as “the student services bureaucracy for the university.” But just when you thought student representation couldn’t be watered down more, the Student Advisory Board (SAB) replaced MUSRA following its downfall. While Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) Legislation requires that democratically elected students be consulted on SSAF expenditure, it does not require ALL students of a University’s student representative body to be elected. The more University-appointed positions on student representative bodies, the easier it is for these institutions to block any individual who may seek more dramatic change to the University landscape. Thus, with the birth of SAB came the introduction of six appointed equity and diversity positions.

  • One Student Representative for Women Students
  • One Student Representative who identifies as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer or Unsure of their Sexual Identity (GLBTIQ)
  • One Student Representative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students
  • One Student Representative for Students with a Disability
  • One Student Representative from a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
  • One Student Representative for Regional and Remote

Names and backgrounds of members of the Independent Selection Panel – those tasked with appointing individuals to these positions, are not made public to students, nor is the criteria from which students are chosen. The Equity and Diversity representatives are the voice for some of the most diverse groups on campus. As last year’s election of a Women’s Collective President proved, every woman wants their experiences at Macquarie University improved in different ways. For some women, the Women’s Room is critical to the time they spend campus, while other women hardly use this facility, instead choosing to prioritise strong voices, the Women’s Collective presence on campus and their ability to lobby the university to make meaningful changes.

In addition to the lack of transparency around the Independent Selection Panel, the individuals interviewed for the appointed positions are not made public until their term begins, nor are their aspirations for the role. This means that students belonging to particular diversity groups on campus have nothing to hold their representatives accountable to throughout their entire two year terms. This inevitably puts the constituents of these respective groups at a disadvantage when compared to students belonging to the Arts Faculty, whose elected representative (hypothetically) promised to ban all Arts Degree jokes within 10 metres of Marxine’s cafe on the campaign trail, but ultimately failed to deliver this when actually in power.

This article doesn’t suggest that current Equity and Diversity Representatives are doing a bad job. Rather, as the Women’s Collective did last year, it argues that with change inevitably upon us, why can’t we attempt to improve the process for students in the future? The students intended to be represented by Equity and Diversity positions know what they want. These are passionate people, and to suggest that the University could sufficiently make a choice for them is inappropriate, undemocratic, and potentially stumps meaningful change for diverse groups on campus.


Note: Grapeshot has requested that the names of individuals sitting on the Independent Selection Panel be released however have not received a reply.

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