UMSU Stands by Respect Week Workshop

Early Friday morning, The Australian published an article about an UMSU workshop called ‘How Privilege Manifests in Tutorials’ (HPMIT). The article contained a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations, so I’d like to take a moment to clarify the purpose of these workshops and the context around them.

These workshops ran as part of The University of Melbourne’s Diversity Week and Respect Week programs and provided students with the opportunity to discuss their own experience of being in classes and tutorials. Beyond that, students are encouraged to question the status quo and apply rigorous critical practice to their own lives and personal situations.

The HPMIT workshops explore how university spaces can be inaccessible to students and the ways in which unconscious bias affects their experiences. All students should be given an equal opportunity to participate in any university space. HPMIT addresses the gap between this ideal and the reality faced by students. The workshops allow students and tutors to discuss their experience and strategies in tutorial and seminar settings.

Despite what was published in The Australian, no male students have been instructed to modify their behaviour on campus. University staff have not received recommendations as a result of these workshops.

The outcomes and discussions in these workshops are a reflection of the experiences of UMSU’s constituents. It was attended by students across a number of faculties: arts, science, medicine, architecture; by both undergraduate and postgraduate students; by both local and international students. Across all these differences, the majority of attendees at the workshop felt that at one point or the other, they had been unheard or unable to speak in a tutorial. This is an important issue which should not be ignored, and is part of bigger questions of equity and accessibility in university spaces.

These workshops enabled students to share their own experiences, but also to suggest solutions to some of the problems that arise in the tutorial setting. These solutions include:

    • Acknowledging country at the first tutorial in a subject
    • Negotiating as a class the expectations, models and tools for the space (for both students and tutors)
    • Making sure mental health, special consideration and support services are properly represented to students
    • Providing tutors with more extensive training, including cultural awareness training
    • Teaching strategies, including: asking questions and letting students write down answers/think about question for a minute before returning to a group discussion; considering more activities in which roles are reversed and students are empowered to lead aspects of tutorial discussion

As students, we are recognised by the University’s governing legislation as constituent members of an academic and social community. We have a right to reflect on the academic experience of our peers, as well as the quality and accessibility of teaching practices. When students feel discouraged from participating or have their voices ignored in discussion, they are hindered from making the most of their education.

UMSU’s goal is to support students of all backgrounds while they are studying and, as such, will continue to offer services that allow students to be their best.

When students share their experiences of life at the University, we think it is important to listen to what those students have to say and to respond in a constructive way. If students say that they feel that they have been unable to speak in a tutorial or that they are marginalised by the conduct of other students should we, as students, respond by entrenching and reinforcing that experience, or should we acknowledge that experience and contribute to the development of a thriving academic and social community?

For UMSU, the answer is clear.

Yan Zhuang
UMSU President