Interview: Kaitlin Ferris

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Name:Kaitlin

What Year were you NUS Women’s Officer?

2009

What was the biggest issue for women student’s the year you were women’s officer?

This is a really difficult question.

The issue which perhaps was central and common to an overwhelming number of women, was their experience and perception of violence on campus. The anecdotal evidence of threats to and violations of women’s safety, in educational spaces was astounding. And the work the department has done since, with the survey, has rendered the experiences of women students undeniable to those who refused to acknowledge the problem.

I say it’s a difficult question, because there are so many underlying issues here. The under-investment in services which would assist in addressing the problem, the reticence to disclose information central to making any progress or change, and the threat’s existence in and of itself…these are such deep, entrenched problems, which really were at the forefront of the very preliminary push for change in 09.

What do you think is the biggest issue is for women students today?

I think the violence and sexism which takes place in the classroom is a really fundamental issue. Sometimes blatant, other times more veiled, it is a source of ongoing and frequent oppression.

This kind of fundamental discrimination and rejection of views on a gendered-basis feeds  into the way men will enter the world, and the validation of such behavior, particularly through silence on the part of teachers is a source of grave concern.

What achievement or campaign are you most proud of?

Finally getting somewhere with the safety on campus issue really made the whole year’s toil seem worth it. I hate that it was such a disgusting occasion which brought the issue to the attention of the wider community (the St Paul’s Facebook group). But it meant that people/media/universities had to pay attention to what we’d been trying to get through all year.

I’ve been absolutely amazed by the work Keelia, Courtney and yourself (Noni) have done on this issue in the years since. The survey, and the way it has had a genuine and real impact on changing attitudes to this issue amongst those with the resources to do something about it has been such a source of inspiration.

When you were women’s officer what couldn’t you leave the house without?

Phone. And whatever sanity I could scrounge up for the day was always  a bonus.

Do you think that the women’s movement is growing or shrinking?

Growing? I suppose it depends on what you’re prepared to include as being part of the movement. Is it attendance at Slutwalk, or at NOWSA which forms the measure of growth in the movement? Or both? Or neither?

I suppose either way, I feel like in my own communities, and to my surprise in my experiences this year especially, there are more women who identify as feminists. So I’m going to remain the eternal optimist and say growing (full stop)

What are you doing now?

I’m a law student. Which is an unexpected place to have found myself in, but one I’m for the most part pretty happy with.

What message would you give to young women thinking about getting involved in the student women’s movement?

Look after those around you, and take care of your health and wellbeing.

Nothing is more important than your family, and your friendships.

And try not to forget the reason you got involved in the first place.

All of these things are easier said than done, of course. But you should do them anyway.

Would you do it all again?

Another difficult question. I worked with some truly amazing people, and there are many moments and things I would not want to take back.

But I wish I’d followed my own above advice a bit better.

I guess the answer is a qualified yes J

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