If you look in the ‘Upcoming NUS Events’ tab of the NUS Women’s page you’ll see there’s a new section on the most recent project of the department. Safe Events Respectful Clubs and Societies (SERCS) is a project born out of a number of public, and less public, incidents at events run by student organisations and clubs and societies on and off campus.
This project is not directed at one particular campus, or one particular student organisation, the project is directed at every student organisation in the country, even those who might think they’re always doing the right thing. There is not a single campus that finds itself free from these issues in one form or another.
The project does not have any interest in the demonizing or blaming of any student organisations or clubs and societies. Active, engaged and interesting student organisations are the lifeblood of campus life.
When they do the right thing, student organisations are capable of setting the tone of what sort of community we want our universities to have. In this same vein, student organisations and clubs and societies that treat women as less, or run events which are unsafe and unwelcoming for women, have the ability to set that as a community on campus.
When I first went to university I did so from a high school that did not send many people to be a part of the largely privileged cohort of Melbourne University. My first weeks at university were very lonely; I didn’t know many people and everyone seemed to know everyone else. This is a feeling often repeated to me by students from public schools, or small and regional communities, where a ready made ‘old tie’ network was not available. Getting involved with clubs and societies and then the student union, allowed me to have a feeling of belonging, of being a part of a community where one did not exist before.
This ability to belong to a community, particularly one which had similar values to me, was a powerful part of me feeling like I would be able to ‘do uni’ in the way that I knew I wanted to. The yearning for a sense of community, a friendship group, is something that many people find fulfilled by getting involved with a club or society.
In my four years involved in women’s activism and student unionism I’ve seen the best of what a community of equals can look like. I’ve also encountered some of the worst of what a university community can look like when those controlling clubs and societies abuse their power. There needs to be a greater recognition of the fine line that club executives walk regarding being both peers and leaders, particularly at events like o-camps and other club trips.
In SERCS student organisations and activists are being given a tool to assist in creating an environment and community that accepts men and women as being equal and having an equal opportunity to engage with campus culture.
Stay tuned for more information on SERCS and the launch on the 11th of July
I’d encourage all activists and organisations that might be interested to get into contact and come along to Education Conference (4th-6th of July in Sydney) and/or NOWSA (9th-13th of July in Canberra Women identifying only) to do the training or get into contact with me on firstname.lastname@example.org there’s more info available in the ‘upcoming events’ tab.