Words || Angus Dalton
A student has raised concerns about the selection process of the Equity and Diversity representatives on the SRC after revealing that a university staff member urged her to go for GLBT Representative rather than Women’s Representative, even though she had not identified as queer in her application.
Georgie Slater applied for Women’s Rep during the SRC election period last semester. She had experience in leadership and representing women as the MQU Labor’s Women’s Officer, and had been endorsed by President of the Women’s Collective, Jasmine Noud.
When university governance officer Air Sinthawalai called Slater and informed her that she wouldn’t be shortlisted for Women’s Representative, she was slightly confused and disappointed. Then, Sinthawalai suggested Slater run for GLBT rep instead.
“This shocked me greatly,” Slater told Grapeshot. “As a bisexual who was not ‘out’ so to speak, I didn’t know how they would know that I was LGBT+. Turns out they didn’t. In my statement, I discussed how it is important for women to work with members of different minority groups, such as LGBT+, to ensure we all succeed together. They thought this meant that I’d be better suited for the position of Queer rep. Clearly their understanding of intersectional feminism is greatly lacking.”
Queer reps on the SRC are required to sign a statement officially testifying that they identify as queer. Slater had done nothing of the sort, or identified herself as queer in her application process. At this point in time she hadn’t come out to her family and many of her friends.
“They were willing for me to go for the position despite having no idea about my sexuality,” says Slater. “Imagine if I wasn’t bisexual. They would have been happy to shortlist someone for Queer rep that they didn’t even know was queer. That gets under my skin, that the university just didn’t care about whether the person representing LBGT+ students was queer or not.”
Slater raised concerns about the university’s conduct and again presented the endorsement that she had been given from the president of the Women’s Collective. As a result, she was shortlisted for Women’s Rep and secured an interview with the selection panel.
She hoped to be asked about her plans for women on campus, her experience in representing women before, and why she believed the role to be important. But this wasn’t the case. Slater says that she was quizzed on how she’d be encouraging students to attend on-campus events, rather than on the experiences of women on campus.
“They should be making their decision based on ability to represent women and understand their needs on campus, not on how they get the numbers for events,” said Slater. “It just felt like they were trying to rule out any activist taking on the position if I’m honest.”
When the selection panel process was first introduced in 2012, the then student representative to Council, Gemma Quinn, told The Australian that the practice of a university-directed panel selection student representatives was a “travesty” and that “independent voices will continue to be quashed”.
Slater echoed these concerns.
“Why can’t the University trust their minority and marginalised students to pick their own representative? Why do four straight people get to decide who will be the best queer rep? Why do two men get to have input on who will represent women the best? Why do four non-first nations people get to decide who represents our Indigenous population? Why do four abled people get to decide who represents the disabled students on campus?”
“It’s structured to prevent any real change, any real activism and any real hope for the disadvantaged students on campus.”
Grapeshot contacted Air Sinthawalai and head of governance services, Zoe Williams, about the incident. Williams replied, saying:
“In instances where there was a perceived misalignment between the candidate’s application and the Equity and Diversity category that they were running for, i.e. when the Selection Panel felt the application did not address the selection criteria for one category but did for another, the Selection Panel provided candidates with the opportunity to change the equity and diversity category that they had selected rather than exclude them from selection all together. This was posed as a suggestion which the candidate could accept or reject.”
The current Women’s Rep is Madison Poynter. It is yet to be seen whether the current SRC will take a formal stand against the selection process in time for the next SRC election period in 2019.
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