Three Steps Backwards

Before I started university, I had this idea that it was going to be this amazing, progressive place. Sadly, now that I’m getting more involved with things at uni, I’m realising just how hostile UQ’s student union can be to anyone who doesn’t fit it’s conservative ideals.

Every orientation week UQ has what’s called a Market Day, where all the clubs and societies hold stalls to recruit new members. There’s an organising committee which determines who gets stalls and who doesn’t, which is predominantly composed of union members.

The Women’s Collective and the Queer Collective both applied for market day stalls. The applications were rejected on the basis that we were not officially affiliated with the union, despite our longstanding and continuous existence. We didn’t want to give up so easily, because we wanted to be able to represent ourselves. So we wrote angry letters to the organising committee, a whole bunch of us.

The replies we received only added confusion: we were told that queer and female students would be represented through a Queer Rights Action Group and a Women’s Rights Action Group, both of which are official bodies set out in the union’s constitution. As per their constitution, these groups are meant to have meetings called at least every three months by the union secretary. We were told that the collectives were welcome to utilise these spaces at market day.

The thing about this made us angry is that these groups (WRAG and QRAG) don’t actually exist. The union had been neglecting to call meetings for several years – we were told this from the union’s gender and sexuality representatives themselves. These groups have no members, no meetings and no community involvement. As far as anyone’s concerned, these groups don’t actually exist.

We would have been willing to settle for this, but we were unsure of whether we would actually be welcome at the WRAG and QRAG stalls. So we wrote a polite letter to our gender and sexuality rep, just to make sure, specifying that we would be able to hand out our zine and have a sign-up sheet for new collective members. We were told that we would be able to “promote what was made available at the stall.” We weren’t very hopeful at that response, but we decided to turn up anyway.

On the day, women’s collective members turned up with our zine and our sign-up sheet and tried to be involved in the stall. We were turned away, with no room for discussion and in contempt of what we had been told by the market day committee. We were told that we could stand behind the table and promote the meagre materials available for this so-called Women’s Rights Action Group. Otherwise we should leave – we were even threatened with security. The Queer Collective only fared slightly better and managed to attach themselves to another, more welcoming stall, while the so-called Queer Rights Action Group one stall down handed out condoms with the union’s political logo stapled to the packets (some were leaking lube).

 

This whole incident might not seem like a big deal in the scheme of things, but to all of us who were involved and put effort into organising a stall for market day, it felt horrible. We were angry. We’re still following up on the whole debacle with whoever will listen to us and writing angry letters. Sadly, the union doesn’t seem to be accountable to anyone, so we don’t think that much will happen on that front. But hopefully we’ve managed to let them know that there are people out there who are not immune to their bigotry and ignorance of queer and women students.

But for the meantime, it feels like one step forwards for feminism, and three steps backwards.

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6 thoughts on “Three Steps Backwards

  1. I think it’s worth mentioning too that when FRESH got elected, they changed the women’s representation group on campus from the Women’s Collective to the Women’s Rights Action Group in the constitution. So this WRAG is something the union made up, but was never active, officially or otherwise, until we challenged their lack of support and it seemingly became evident to the union that it would be a good idea to try and edge out the only active women’s representation group on campus in favour of their own.
    Great piece, Johanna. I’m glad this is getting some traction on the net; more people in and outside uni need to be aware of the silly bigotry and discrimination that goes on by the people students elect to represent them.

  2. Well it certainly sounds like a big deal for your university community. It sounds like your student union is getting credit for inclusiveness (of women’s and queer groups) with out actually having to deal without, you know, actually being inclusive.
    I am also pretty worried about those stapled condom packets, I mean, one slightly misplaced staple and they’re worse than useless.

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