Parkville Station Editorial misses the mark
Opinion • As reported last week in Parkville Station, the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) will be holding its second special general meeting (SGM) this semester to consider changes to its constitution. To my disappointment the editorial on the SGM, as published in last week’s Parkville Station largely missed the mark on a number of its positions.
I fully acknowledge that Parkville Station was largely supportive of the motions, though their positions on the introduction of a People of Colour Department and affirmative action were frustrating and wayward of the mover’s intentions. It is my intention to vote yes in favour of all the motions presented, for the following reasons.
Moving down the list of motions it is helpful to understand some of the historical context behind the motions. For a number of years UMSU has been home to both a People of Colour Collective and a Women of Colour Collective, as facilitated by engaged members of our community and at times various UMSU Office Bearers. In my view, in the view of these collectives, and in the view of the Women’s Collective it is time for both the Women’s Department to evolve and the organisation as a whole to progress toward a more representative Union. That means shedding a more exclusive second-wave past and abandoning the asterisk in favour of a more trans inclusive department and Union. Moreover the Women’s Department also acknowledges the importance of its Women of Colour Collective and the functional importance of women of colour representatives. It is the wishes of the Women’s Collectives to formally empower women of colour in the department. A yes vote on motions 1, 4 and 6 is a vote to allow the Women of UMSU shape their own department, a move I whole heartedly support and encourage.
As both a University and as a broader Australian community, People of Colour are grossly underrepresented. Students from African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Latinx, Arab and multi-racial backgrounds are not specifically represented in UMSU as a group the way that they should be. Often issues of race or diversity require extraordinary action from the Union and small collectives, like we saw in our Chalk For Diversity Campaign. While in that instance we were able to mobilise in support of the movement, the needs of thousands of students of colour on campus are serious enough to warrant their own department and the authority and resources that come with that. On the interaction between the PoC Department and the Indigenous Department, there exists the reality that not all Indigenous students identify as people of colour — there are clear and exclusive bounds of the two departments in the eyes of both collectives. Their potential cross over is no more serious or worrisome than the potential crossover between say the Queer and Women’s Departments. To support motions 2 and 5 is to empower people of colour and enshrine the im portance of autonomous representation within UMSU, propositions strongly in line with our progressive organisation.
Affirmative action is often a hotly contested topic. It was discussed at length in Students’ Council with a wide variety of opinions shared. There are a number of students that for whatever reason do not support affirmative action and that is acknowledged. That being said I believe that affirmative action is an important mechanism in representative organisations. In this there are two separate motions: motion 7 to introduce affirmative action for Office Bearer positions, and motion 8 which changes the current 50% minus one rule to 50% plus one. Starting with motion
8, in changing the affirmative action rule to 50% plus one would simply see one more non-man added to committees and Students’ Council. In my view this is highly uncontroversial: it truly is more representative of the student body and empowers a traditionally underrepresented portion
of our student body.
For motion 7, I cannot stress how important having diversity inside departments is. As a former single Office Bearer, I cannot stress the immediate benefits of having a second Office Bearer who is a woman. Immediately our department was more accessible and more capable in dealing with sensitive areas of our responsibilities. Practically speaking this is one of the most important
strategic directions departments take.
Mechanisms like affirmative action shape the culture of our organisation. I, like many people, would like to imagine the world in which we do not need affirmative action or autonomous representation. It is unfortunate that we do not live in such a world. As an organisation we still have cultural issues surrounding our elections, our representation and our operation. That being said, it is my firm belief that at every junction we will be on the right side of history regarding progressive issues, including the empowerment of underrepresented peoples. In my opinion we have a way to go before we can say that we are the beacon of progressive values we wish to be. I see this step of affirmative action, that is unlikely to actually trigger and be enforced, as a means to protecting those values and ensuring that the culture we are cultivating is one that persists long into the future. Yes votes for motions 7 and 8 are simple votes for both practically and culturally sound mechanisms that ensure a more inclusive Union long into the future.
Motions 1 through 8 are a suite of changes that are undeniably shifting the conversation and the culture of our organisation. I appreciate that not all the details are ironed out and that people are still sceptical the motions are even necessary. I hope my perspective has provided some insight as to the importance of these changes and the rationale behind them. Lastly, I also wanted to thank the tireless work of the dozens of women and people of colour that have dedicated hundreds of work hours to presenting these changes and I sincerely hope they help carve a home and a Union you can be proud of. I’ll be voting yes, I hope you do too.
Tyson is the current President of UMSU.