Tag Archives: CASA

Safe Events Respectful Clubs and Societies

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 womens@nus.asn.au there’s more info available in the ‘upcoming events’ tab. 

Baby kings and ‘sluts’ – the danger of O-Camps, clubs and societies and unchecked power

The UWA O-Camps disclosure this week has lead to some serious questions regarding the roles and responsibilities of clubs and societies and student organisations in keeping women safe. If you’re not familiar with the events at UWA the Feminist Action Network (FAN) blogged yesterday for NUS Women’s and you can read it here.

The issue of women student’s safety in clubs and societies is something that the NUS Women’s Department has been concerned about many years. More recently, during O-Week at a Victorian University the department was approached with information about sexual assaults at student organisation run events and faculty club camps. The sexual assaults were of a serious nature but the women had chosen not to report them.

Following these disclosures the women’s department sought information from student organisation presidents about instances of harassment and assault at the events they run, the response was overwhelming. Almost every student organisation had at least one serious incident, almost every president wanted more information and resources.

It is important to note that these events and incidents do not occur in isolation, they occur as a result and a part of a culture which devalues women. Clubs and societies are just a microcosm of a wider societal values. Existing within these clubs are clear power differentials between those that run the clubs and new members, particularly first years.

These power differentials are even more pronounced on camps organised for first years during O-Week. Although it varies from university to university there is often very little oversight or training given to those who have an inordinate amount of power over others. People who run the camps take on the role of both leaders and peers, this gives them significant degrees of influence over those under their care. This power, coupled with the social isolation that can occur as a result of being seen as a ‘prude’ or a ‘chicken’ allows the leaders of the camps free reign over what sort of behavior is deemed acceptable and unacceptable.

Ignorance should not be misunderstood as maliciousness in these circumstances. Nor should all clubs be tarred with the same brush. The majority of young people charged with running clubs and societies do an excellent job and provide an important service. However, student organisations do need to do more to ensure that all clubs are required to undertake training. A continuing failure to do so is increasingly a failure in the duty of care student organisations have to their members- particularly in a post SSAF environment.  

There are obvious reasons that the way clubs operate don’t change, particularly the ways that toxic clubs don’t change. Those who refuse to participate or dislike the way clubs are run are unlikely to continue to be involved in clubs. If you had a heap of fun getting wasted and having sex at Arts camp, you’re going to organise Arts camp the same way when you’re in charge 

Before anyone jumps in and starts using this as an argument against the SSAF they need to take a moment to understand that not all clubs, o camps, o weeks and societies are like this. Not to mention that the solution comes within the organisation and who it affiliates to – NUS.

In conjunction with the South Eastern Center for Sexual Assault there will be a respectful relationships training designed especially for members of clubs and societies executives. This training, part of a wider resource called Safe Parties, Respectful Clubs and Societies, will be launched at NOWSA in July. This resource will not be a final step, it’s a beginning to be built upon within your student organisations to ensure that we can create a vibrant campus life that is accessible and safe for everyone to participate in.