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The Far Right on Campus

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The far right is on the rise across the world—even here at Monash.

The first day of semester 2 saw the re-appearance of Nazi propaganda on campus, threatening the arrest and deportation of Chinese students, and calling for a whites-only Australia.

Last year, Donald Trump won the most powerful election in the world by promising to deport immigrants and ban Muslims, while boasting about his past sexual assaults.

In Austria, the Netherlands, and France, fascist parties have come dangerously close to forming government. In Greece and Hungary, the neo-Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn and Jobbik have attacked migrants, Roma and their political enemies, and have gained a footing in parliament.

And right here in Australia, Pauline Hanson is back in Parliament, denouncing Muslims, migrants, and autistic children. Fascist and fascist-sympathising groups, such as Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, have been organising anti-Muslim street mobilisations since 2015.

Their beliefs are hardly radical. Flag-waving, Muslim-hating, migrant-bashing, homophobia and sexism are promoted everywhere from the Herald Sun to the House of Representatives. The “radical” right just amplify the prejudices already promoted by the mainstream, and take them to their logical conclusions.

The student world is no exception. Universities aren’t the enlightened havens of intellectual progress that some like to imagine. The snobbery and social privilege of many university students translates easily into far-right, and even fascist, worldviews.

Far-right activism is experiencing a mini-revival on some Australian campuses. In some places, it’s the pathetic and resentful antics of “Men’s Rights” clubs. Increasingly, it’s the vilification and intimidation of Muslims. At the University of Western Australia a severed pig’s head was left outside the Muslim prayer room in 2015. A few months later at the University of Sydney, the Muslim room was trashed and threatening racist notes left.

In New South Wales earlier this year, posters were put up around campuses celebrating the forty-year fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, where tens of thousands of dissidents were killed, opposition parties banned, and women excluded from public life. For some years now, pro-Nazi leaflets have been distributed annually throughout universities.

At Monash this year, we’ve seen the emergence of the Monash Right, whose posters around campus have celebrated Trump and denounced alleged socialist conspiracies. And at the start of semester 2, “Antipodean Resistance” made a splash with their Chinese-language posters threatening to arrest and deport international students, alongside other, even more disgusting posters calling for all non-whites to be banned from Australia.

These aren’t all the same. There’s a difference between hyped-up conservatives and outright Nazis. But the right as a whole are increasingly promoting anti-migrant, anti-women, and anti-left sentiments on university campuses.

What to do?

Some argue that people who oppose fascism and the far right should ignore them and they’ll remain small and irrelevant. But we can’t wait for fascists to build up their forces before we take them on. If we do, it means those who stand up for egalitarianism and democracy are passive, while those who stand for oppression and discrimination promote their worldviews and organisations. The left, Muslims, women, LGBTI people and anyone else who oppose the Right have a reason to be concerned and take the threat of a growing right seriously now, not later once passivity has allowed them to grow to the extent they have in other parts of the world.

Others hope that we can bully the right into submission, or hide from them.

“Safe spaces”—including literal rooms devoted exclusively for the use of oppressed groups like women, LGBTI people, and people of colour—may be comforting to small groups of students, but they do nothing to stop the spread of right wing ideas in the world outside those tiny rooms. By retreating into our own inner lives, and ignoring the world outside, we give the other side free reign. We have to resist—not retreat.

And we can’t just try to turn the whole university into a “safe space” by demanding security guards and the university shut down our opponents. By calling on authorities to ban controversial speakers, leaflets, and meetings, we allow those who support oppression to act like martyrs of civil liberties.

And neither of these strategies increases the confidence and organisation of our side. Those of us who oppose discrimination and oppression have to collaborate to promote our ideas and activities with more boldness, confidence, and strength in numbers.

Ultimately, no matter how many speakers are banned and how many safe spaces are declared, the only way to defeat the right is by out-doing them on the field of organisation, argument, and activity.

That means we need to defend free speech and the right to organise politically on campus, because we need to use it. The ideas of the Right are promoted by the President of the USA and the columnists of the daily newspapers.

We have to use our resources to promote pro-migrant, pro-women, pro-LGBTI, and pro-equality messages that can win over students: our student papers, our student unions, our campus clubs, and our university spaces.

A battle of ideas is inevitable. The only way the broadly progressive forces can win is by taking a stand with confidence, organisation, and resources. That’s why it’s important to have our collective resources pooled to defend the rights and dignity of students and staff. It’s why taking a stance on controversial questions is important.

Clubs, societies, and student unions can’t afford to be be “apolitical” when Nazis are promoting their beliefs. And anti-fascist students can’t afford to be passive and leave it to others to sort out.

Luckily at Monash we are well equipped with a well-established student union; a number of broadly progressive political clubs; clubs and societies that represent LGBTI students, Muslims, and international students, and others; plus our student journalism and radio organisations, and many other resources.

All these groups, and many more—plus any interested student reading this—can, and should take a public stand against racism and the far right. If you don’t fight, you lose every time.

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AHRC Survey Results Released

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Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) undertook a national survey about sexual assault and sexual harassment experienced by university students. In addition to the survey, which gained over 39,000 responses from a random sample of 60,000 students at 39 universities, nearly 2,000 additional submissions were given by victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

On Tuesday August 1st, a report was released detailing the results of this survey. The AHRC published a report titled Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. It can be found here. The national results published from the AHRC will not include data on sexual assaults or harassment at individual universities or campuses, leaving the onus on each university to release their own information.

After facing backlash from students about their initial decision not to release data specific to Monash, Monash University published its data soon after the release of the report. Data specific to Monash University can be found here.

Monash University refused to brief student representatives on specific campus data from the survey before the results were released. University administration claimed that Monash was under embargo until the public release of the survey, however other universities made exceptions to ensure student representatives were sufficiently prepared and informed of the data.  

The national survey revealed that 51% of students were sexually harassed at least once in 2016. One in five of those students were sexually harassed in a university setting. The report also found that 94 percent of those who were sexually harassed did not make a formal complaint to their university, and neither did 87 percent of students who were sexually assaulted. Female students were twice as likely to be harassed than their male counterparts, and three times as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped. A large majority of perpetrators were fellow students and were male.

The report also showed that students who identified as Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander, students with a disability, students who identified as bisexual, and students who identified as transgender or gender diverse, were more likely to have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. It then stated that a majority of students who had witnessed an incident of sexual assault or sexual harassment failed to take any action in response. The report called on “universities to provide appropriate bystander education to equip students to take appropriate action when witnessing an incident of sexual assault or sexual harassment”.

The report concluded that the four main contributing factors to sexual assault or sexual harassment were attitudes towards women, alcohol, the perpetrator abusing a position of power, and residential settings. The report stated that “universities are in a unique position to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment” and that the information contained in the report is a “call to action for universities to address these factors and ensure that they are providing students with a safe, supportive learning environment that does not tolerate sexual assault or harassment”.

In a questionable move, Universities Australia have taken credit for commissioning the landmark survey as part of their Respect. Now. Always. initiative targeted at improving university policy and services regarding sexual assault. Monash University has also come under fire previously for refusing to comply with the largest ever Freedom of Information investigation into reports of sexual misconduct at universities by Channel 7.

In response to the survey data, the Monash Student Association has launched SHIFT: A campaign to stop sexual violence at Monash. More information about that can be found here. This was also influenced by the fact the university does not have any policy or procedures in place to deal with cases of sexual assault that are reported to the university. This is particularly ironic considering Margaret Gardner is chairman of Universities Australia and launched the Respect. Now. Always campaign.

Separate to the AHRC survey, but related to Monash’s response to sexual assault on its campuses, the University refused to comply with a Freedom of Information (FOI) request issued by the media late last year. The FOI request asked for data around the number of reported cases of sexual assault to the university, and the number of expulsions that had been issued to perpetrators as a result of these reports. Eventually, all 38 of 39 universities complied except for Monash. The issue was taken all the way to the FOI Commissioner who began an investigation into the request and Monash’s refusal to comply. MSA President Matilda Grey worked with renowned journalist Nina Funnell to construct a news story around the matter, and when Monash was contacted 24 hours before the release of the story, they finally decided to comply with the FOI. This behaviour clearly defines Monash’s bureaucratic concern to act only to protect its brand, and not in the interests of students. With such a history of avoidance around the issue of sexual assault, it is difficult to trust that Monash will indeed follow through with its promise to implement all recommendations handed down by the AHRC following the release of the survey.

If you or anyone you know needs support, please contact Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, who provide a specialist trauma and counselling service on 1800 572 224.

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Student Affairs

Monash Students Can’t Afford to Eat While University Spends Lavishly

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In a recent survey of Monash University students, the MSA has found that most students overwhelmingly lack the funds needed to meet the cost of living.

 

In a series of surveys conducted by the MSA Education and Welfare Departments, 62% of students said they don’t earn enough to cover basic living expenses. This is hardly surprising when 64.1% of students say they earn between $0 – $5000 a year to cover, by the University’s own estimates, $23,607 of average yearly expenses, that represent everything from the cost of housing to the price of transport.

Monash students aren’t the only ones copping it. Universities Australia has discovered that two-thirds of Australian university students live below the poverty line, adding to the already dire picture of student economic insecurity. Factoring in research produced by the National Union of Students, the data reveals that a staggering 17% of students regularly go without food or other necessities while 55% of students are also paying down debt.

Though student poverty is an issue that generations of young people before us have had to overcome, Welfare experts warn that students’ ability to fund their living expenses is becoming more difficult every year. Stuart Martin, head of the Student Financial Advisors Network, warned in a recent ABC article that financial assistance provided by the Government to students ‘is considerably well below the poverty line’.

If students are predominantly impoverished, and Australia’s cost of living is climbing with each successive year, how are students meant to stay afloat? Do Australia’s public universities, as bastions of free thought and student life, have a duty to help their students when Government support is recklessly inadequate?

The MSA says abso-fucking-lutely.

Some financial services are already available. The University provides limited financial counselling and support through Monash Connect, offering students personal budgeting advice and information about eligibility for government benefits.  Students can also access interest-free, short-term loans, however these can’t be used to pay course fees and they incur a 15.25% penalty if the loan isn’t repaid by the due date. While Monash should be commended for offering a few services, they must do more. Acknowledging that excessive course fees are sucking student bank balances dry would be a wise place to start.

Monash isn’t transparent when it comes to the true cost of studying at University. For domestic students, they know that university-related expenses don’t end with tuition fees covered by HECS. In responses to the survey, students listed a range of hidden fees that Monash charges throughout the semester, the most commonly cited examples being: textbooks, field trips, sheet music, lab coats and kitchen-practical uniforms, printing services and accompanying musicians for performance exams. These costs exemplify the compulsory fees that students have no choice but to pay in order to pass their units.   

Students from the School of Music who compulsorily undertake performance exams incur unfair and prohibitive additional fees. To cover the wage of a Faculty-mandated accompanying musician, students are forced to pay a fee of $90 per-hour of their exam. While many students in the School are performing several exams, administrators know they will require this service each semester as it is essential to how the School conducts their assessments. This cost could and should therefore be reflected in tuition fees. Non-music students don’t pay an extra fee for Exam Invigilators, so why must Music students pay extra? When the MSA spoke with students within the School of Music, many revealed they weren’t aware of this fee prior to enrolment. This is a dishonest and unfair practice for which the University needs to be held accountable.  

In 2016, total fees charged by the University to students rose by 3%, almost double the rate at which prices across the Australian economy rose during the same period. Monash now generates more revenue from fees and charges than they do from Government funding, demonstrating the apparently little-known fact that young people pay for their tertiary education. Some might say these increasing fees are inevitable in an increasingly corporatised world. Inevitable too then, must be the shameless 21 million dollars Monash forked out in 2016 to pay for business advisory services.

Monash University students are forcibly charged $90 an hour to sit an exam while Monash spends millions employing the services of over 30 top-tier consultancy firms.

Such flagrant profligacy must not go unchecked.

If Monash considers improving their embarrassingly low satisfaction rate a priority, they must take student welfare seriously. Most students whose marks leave them at risk of failing their course don’t find themselves in such a position because they’re lazy or stupid. Students fail because work commitments leave them underpaid and short on time. Students fail because they feel unsafe sharing a campus with their rapist. Students fail because they are burdened by every economic metric proclaiming that a job will not likely be available for them at graduation.

In Semester 2, the MSA will be leading a campaign tackling student poverty and the cost of living. One feature of that campaign will be a campus-wide push to encourage the University to waive a range of hidden course fees. To achieve this we will be working with students from across Monash who would like to see their Faculties address these unfair, unnecessary and prohibitive fees. Fighting for the internalisation of hidden fees is a meaningful step we can take towards easing the cost of living pressures on students.

Stay tuned for further information on how to get involved with this campaign. If you have an idea or proposal to help struggling students meet the cost of living and escape the scourge of poverty, we’d love to hear from you! Chuck us a message through our MSA Education or MSA Welfare Facebook pages.

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Student Affairs

Do the Carrots on Your Dinner Plate Travel More Than You Do?

Do The Carrots on Your Dinner Plate Travel More Than You Do_ (Cherie Chan)

 

Most of the fruit and vegetables you see in the shops and served on a plate in your local cafe or restaurant have been grown here in Australia.

When we talk about locally grown, we don’t simply mean the farms on the outer fringes of Melbourne, we’re actually talking about Australia, a country of over 7.5 million square kilometres.

Melbourne’s food bowl is important. Carrots are grown in Cranbourne, oranges and grapes are grown in Mildura, apples come from Bacchus Marsh and Shepparton, and those crisp lettuces are trucked in from Werribee. One problem today is that the farmers growing all this fabulous food can now fund an early retirement by selling their land to clamouring developers, creating more and more housing estates on the outer fringes of Melbourne’s urban sprawl.

Many people consider healthy eating and a balanced diet a necessary part of their lifestyle. The local vegan might well realise that their spiky-topped pineapple must be travelling south from tropical Queensland, but it’s also likely that their cucumbers, eggplants and zucchinis are doing some serious distance as well. Just think of all that veggie pasta on Instagram, those green noodles started their life in the west and had a road trip of 10 hours from South Australia.

Fruit and vegetables are seasonal, so not everything is available all year round. Yet, when we walk into the supermarket fresh produce section it can seem like we can buy whatever we want, whenever we like. We’ve heard about apples being stored for up to 12 months (will a science degree explain how that works?), but where are those summer cherries coming from in the middle of June? I’ll make it easy for you, those cherries are flying in from sunny California.

That healthy lifestyle may not be as sustainable as you think. Fruit and vegetables are increasingly imported from overseas to fill gaps in local supply. At different times of year, your local greengrocer could be stocking oranges from Egypt, garlic from China and Argentina, pomegranates from the United States and kiwifruit from Italy (this one seems especially strange, because surely it should be coming from New Zealand).

There is an increasing awareness of the impact our consumption habits have on the globe, and rising vegetarianism and veganism are part of this. Sure, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables is good for the environment, especially in terms of generally lower greenhouse gas emissions and water usage in comparison to meat production. Nevertheless, your healthy lifestyle may have other consequences. Imported foods are transported to Australia by air, a mode of travel with a huge carbon footprint and thus ecological impact. So in this sense, local produce is more sustainable than imported. As consumers, is it reasonable for us to expect all types of produce to be available all year round?

Imagine if our fruit and vegetables could talk to each other. First, you’ll need to disregard the fact that this would be extremely weird, and might put you off your salad, but can you imagine the conversation? How do you think a locally grown bunch of carrots that had only travelled 10km in its life would react to a globetrotting orange?

What about the Peruvian asparagus? He’s stuck greeting everyone with “Hola, ¿qué tal?” While the locals respond with “What are you on about, mate?” Maybe those Australian carrots would need to seek out the Californian oranges rather than the Egyptian ones.

Think about it, as a student with a HECS debt and needing to budget for rent, food and transport, your food might be travelling more than you.

What can we do about it?

Our local farmers need our support.

Visit your local greengrocer.

Make friends with local, seasonal produce, even if it doesn’t talk back.

Think twice about where your fresh food is coming from.

You could discover new foods and your lifestyle might just become more sustainable!

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Student Affairs

Wot’s News

Wot’s News-

 

Students Run for Refugee Scholarships

The Monash Student Association has launched an initiative to raise funds for the Monash Asylum Seekers Scholarship by asking students to participate in the 5.7km run at the Melbourne Marathon and consequently seek sponsorship for their participation from friends and family. Monash is completely subsidising the registration cost of $40 so that students can participate for free and focus on their fundraising efforts. Monash University currently provides 2 scholarships which pays the recipient’s tuition fees as well as providing $3,000 per year for the duration of their course. Additional scholarships for asylum seekers and refugees on temporary visas are currently funded by Monash alumni with four more made available in 2017. The money raised by this effort will be going towards funding more. Headed by the Welfare Department of the MSA, the ‘Degrees for Refugees’ fundraiser will take place on October the 15th at 11:30am. It aims to show the University the student support for assisting refugees who have little access to a tertiary education, as they are not eligible for a Commonwealth Supported Place or deferred fees through HECs with the hope the University will also increase their funding for the scholarship. Students can express their interest through a Google form available from the MSA Welfare Facebook page or their website. Only 13 tertiary institutions provide scholarships for asylum seekers or refugees on temporary visas. The University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney do not offer such scholarships.

 

Winterfest

Monash campuses will host WinterFest from August 7 to 13 with events such as the secret cinema, silent disco, glow yoga and comedy lounge with Tommy Little, which’ll take place across the week. The MSA will be hosting ‘Chill’ at Monash Sport on the Thursday night which will involve drinks, music and dancing, with tickets available online from $20 for MSA members up to $40 for access to a VIP lounge and bars. The Winter Carnival on the Friday will have 10 food trucks, entertainment and fireworks from 7:30pm with the winter concert series on the weekend playing at the Music auditorium to wrap things up.

 

August 8 Protests

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is holding a National Day of Protest on August 8th to protest the higher education cuts by the government and to highlight the impact it’ll have on staff. Simultaneously, protests at universities will be occurring nationwide in response to the Federal budget changes to tertiary education. At Monash, the protest will also mark the start of negotiations for a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement for academic and professional staff. The Monash Student Association is joining with the NTEU to hold a joint protest on the Lemon Scented Lawns with a BBQ and speakers before heading off to a National Union of Students (NUS) protest at the State Library of Victoria. The NUS protest will be in response to drastic fee increases, the $2.8bn higher education funding cut, the recent cuts to penalty rate and changes to the HECs debt threshold. The overarching message of the protest will be the call for free education.

The NTEU protest is set to highlight opposition to the Turnbull government’s plan to cut higher education funding. This loss will result in an average of 10 per cent less funding per student to universities under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme, resulting in 10 per cent less public investment in Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP). Despite a 7.5% increase in domestic student contribution to the CSP, the decrease in funding to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (which universities primarily receive their government funding from), will mean less overall funding towards tertiary education. The NTEU has branded this as students having to “pay more but get less”, as larger class sizes, increased rates of casual staff, less courses offered and less face-to-face learning is likely to be the result. The NTEU is concerned that the decreased tertiary funding will lead to further job insecurity and increased pressure on university staff.

As for the new Monash EBA, the NTEU is seeking improvements in working conditions, improved job security provisions that include permanent employment opportunities for casual academic staff and equality of superannuation contributions. Casual and some fixed-term staff currently receive a substantially lower percentage of superannuation.

OECD statistics show that Australian students pay the third highest amount of fees for tertiary education, whilst public investment in tertiary education is the 6th lowest, at 0.9% of our GDP. The government’s higher education package includes lowering the HELP threshold to $42,000, an increase to student fees of 7.5 per cent by 2021, a 2.5 per cent ‘efficiency dividend’ in 2018 and 2019 to universities and ending access for permanent residents and New Zealand citizens to Commonwealth supported places, moving them onto domestic full fee places with access to HELP loans.

The changes are set to be voted on in parliament in mid-August. So far, Labor, the Greens, and Jacqui Lambie have stated they will oppose the legislation in the Senate whilst Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm have announced their support. One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team have yet to finalise their positions. Universities Australia and the Group of Eight are both in opposition of the changes.

 

Sexual Assault Survey

Results from the Australian Human Rights Commission survey into sexual assault and sexual harassment in university is finally set to be released on August 1st. The results will reveal the extent to which the issue has proliferated on campuses, after the survey received 39,000 responses. All 39 Australian universities have committed to releasing their specified campus data, which has been recognised as a positive step in addressing this issue. Universities have recently been struggling with cases of sexual assault on campus, specifically in disciplining perpetrators, assisting victims with access to timely counselling and the repercussions for colleges which are often self governed. St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney was recently criticised for a Facebook post describing sex with larger women as “harpooning a whale”.

The process has been heavily criticised after the Australian Human Rights Commission said it would not publicly release individual campus data itself. It has also been criticised for a lack of any enforceable recommendations on the findings and a failure of the survey in seeking full ethics approval. Further condemnation came from student advocates in scrutinising the links between Universities Australia and the Commission.

In an email addressed to staff, Monash Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner outlined the steps Monash has taken in regards to tackling sexual assault on campus in preparation for the survey release. The primary campaign that she highlighted was the Respect. Now. Always. project from Universities Australia, that included the creation of a consent video, training for student leaders in off-campus events, an online training module and screening of The Hunting Ground documentary with panel discussions. Monash will also be releasing a smartphone app dedicated to informing students and staff of processes, and enabling better responses to incidents. Gardner has also committed to reviewing Monash’s student discipline policies and procedures in order to separate academic and research misconduct from general misconduct, the category sexual offences fall in.

In a submission made to the Commission, advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia has alleged that universities are ‘failing’ their students and “actively covering up sexual assaults”. They state that there have been only six expulsions despite over 500 official sexual assault reports in the last five years. This is based on information gathered from five years worth of Freedom of Information requests that show 575 official complaints made to universities detailing sexual assault and harassment. 145 of these related directly to rape. The submission details widespread cases of “hazing” and at times a vitriolic campus culture, for example, a case where one university residential hall was known as the “slut alley” and where there were chants of  “no means yes and yes means anal” to another female student. Examples where residential college heads, staff and students have not acted in accordance with sexual assault reporting procedure are also prominent in the submission, with additional criticism on the often inconsistent and confusing reporting mechanisms within universities.

Monash University has been under fire in numerous occasions regarding sexual misconduct. Most recently, they have received criticism for an incident that occurred on an off-campus club weekend away, after a Monash student was allegedly raped and sexually assaulted by a fellow student. The delayed reporting process that was condemned has been perhaps a catalyst for Monash to introduce mandatory reporting protocols as well as mandatory training for students in dealing with these incidents. This follows the story of student Emma Hunt, unsatisfied with Monash’s processes, who told her account on Channel 7’s Sunday Night after Monash refused to cooperate with their Freedom of Information investigation into rape on campus and the disciplinary actions that universities took after reported cases.

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said universities had embarked on the sector-wide initiative Respect. Now. Always to prevent sexual assault. In addition to this program, Monash University’s Safer Community Unit runs a number of initiatives to enhance the safety and wellbeing of all at Monash. This includes the Respectful Community Initiative aimed at preventing sexual and interpersonal violence. Other recent campus measures include the consent workshop Sexpectations run by the Monash Residential Services (MRS), consent posters, and better lighting on campus.

Monash and their Campus Community Division have also been a supporter of the White Ribbon campaign, regularly running White Ribbon events. This includes the MRS White Ribbon Night last year, when 125 males took the ‘White Ribbon oath’ for zero tolerance for violence against women, raising over $2700 in the process as well as workshops to “upskill staff regarding sexual assault and family violence”. They have become a White Ribbon accredited workplace after an assessment to ensure Monash’s culture and procedures were adequate in preventing and responding to violence against women. Although some of these measures may be beneficial, there has also been much criticism surrounding White Ribbon in its one-dimensional approach, especially centred around the fact that it prioritises males and marginalises women, and that it is sometimes tokenistic and draws attention and much needed funding away from front line services like legal aid and women’s shelters. Simultaneously, the campaign has been praised for placing emphasis on the perpetrators, by encouraging people ‘not to rape’, rather than placing emphasis on potential victims to ‘not get raped’.

Students from the University of Sydney have recently launched The Survivors’ Network as a “peer-led support group for survivors of sexual assault- run by survivors, for survivors”.

Further, the Australian National University have recently employed a full-time specialist sexual assault counsellor to assist students. The counsellor is funded 40 per cent by their student union and 60 per cent by ANU, and will mean students have access to this service five days a week. The ANU consulted with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre for this move which has been widely praised, after over a year of criticism regarding their handling of sexual assault and harassment on campus.

 

Past Exam Database Closed

The Library has closed its past exam database in response to the changes in university policy. Students will no longer have access to past exams through the Library Search in accordance with the university’s preference for exam preparation material provided by Unit Coordinators. This was a result of the University’s desire to shift away from reliance upon past exams for exam preparation, and on to new preparation material provided by educators. Further justification for this move was to encourage the creation of new tailored practice exams in the context of each unit and even out the availability of exam preparation material. In 2015 and 2016, there was extensive variation in faculty provision of past exams, ranging from 0 and 1 for four faculties, all the way to 136 for Engineering whilst other faculties generally provided between 10-60. This change occurred as part of a number of policy changes to the Assessment in Coursework Units Policy and Procedures, that was approved in 2016 by the Academic Board and Learning and Teaching Committee (LTC). These bodies both have student representation.

Assessment changes adopted last year were developed by the University’s Assessment Working Group, a working group of the LTC that sought to better relate assessment to the teaching and actual curriculum. More specifically, the new Security and Record Keeping Procedures has changes that include “a move away from the release of examination papers and subsequent emphasis in Examination Procedures on ensuring appropriate guidance is provided to students to encourage preparedness for examinations. This has facilitated the removal of previous requirements around the publication of examinations via the University Library….” (quoted from the submission to LTC meeting 7/2016). These policy changes have resulted in the removal of exams from previous years and the discontinuation of publishing any future papers. The now inaccessible database did not hold every past exam for every unit, only a partial small subset due to the reliance on the explicit release of the papers by each Unit Coordinator with many old exams being out of context. The Monash Library has provided a long lead time for implementation from the actual policy change to allow for adequate time for faculties to develop new approaches to assessment and more pedagogically appropriate preparation methods such as through class practice tests and updated exam practice questions. Provision of adequate assessment preparation materials including exams, now rest entirely with each relevant Faculty and Unit Coordinator. The Monash Library also provides online resources, workshops and drop-in sessions to assist with studying techniques.

Other academic policy changes have included the end of the Cancellation of Exams process, and that exams are now stated to be a minimum of one and a half hours according to Monash Policy. The cessation of cancelled exams means that students who attempt their exam on the initial date can no longer defer due to an unforeseen circumstance or illness occurring during the exam but may still apply for special consideration through their unit teaching faculty. The implementation of this change was contentious in that it was communicated in a confusing manner and due to the unclear process replacing the original Cancellation of Exams that states that the dean of the unit teaching faculty may still approve deferred examinations given exceptional circumstances.

 

Chinese Student Complaints

A human resources lecturer has been suspended pending an investigation following complaints by Chinese students over a Moodle quiz question that indicated as a correct answer that Chinese officials were only truthful when drunk or careless. Aaron Wijeratne, who was behind the quiz, based it off the textbook used for the unit which will also be dumped for semester two. Human Resource Management by Raymond J. Stone, commonly used in other universities will no longer be in use for the unit as part of Monash’s response to concerns over the questionable quiz which were voiced over Wechat, Monash Stalkerspace on Facebook and through China’s consulate-general in Melbourne. Chinese students complained that the questions were not reflective of China’s current society and disputed the validity of the saying. The Chinese phrase of officials only speaking the truth when drunk or careless was cited as an example in a section on cross-cultural ethics where other countries were also discussed. Robert Brooks, Deputy Dean of Monash Business School responded to criticism of the quiz in a Moodle post, stating “Some of the questions are unsatisfactory and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Monash University”. The quiz was immediately withdrawn thereafter. Critics of the move have advocated to lift the suspension as the lecturer followed the textbook in creating the question and that as a tool for education, contentious examples are at times, beneficial.

 

Budget Protests

Nationwide student protests occurred in major cities on May 17 in opposition to the Turnbull government’s proposed changes to higher education that would see an overall $2.8billion cut to funding in the tertiary sector. As organised by the National Union of Students and student unions, the Melbourne rally saw a turnout of over 800 students on estimates. Other proposed changes that students were fighting against include a 7.5% fee increase to domestic students, lowering the HECS repayment threshold and moving permanent residents and New Zealand citizens from Commonwealth Supported Places to full domestic fees.

 

Longer Terms on Academic Board

Changes to student membership on Academic Board now mean the two year terms will be introduced rather than the one year terms that are currently in place in to better facilitate handover for student members. However the current student members on the board (Matthew Gebert, Cindy Ho, Peter Hurley and Lawrence Lee) have recommended the terms return back to one year in response to concerns about the overall reduction of student representation and diversity of such as well as that “unproductive members” would be serving longer terms that would then “negatively impact the board”. The current student members have also recommended that student elections for Academic Board are moved forward from the current period of the end of the year, after exams to the start of semester 2 to facilitate greater student engagement and allow for a crossover period to instead assist the transition of the newly elected board members.

 

Uni Rankings

More university and subject rankings have been released recently with Monash ranked 12th out of 243 universities in the Asia-Pacific region and 5th in Australia in the Times Higher Education Asia-Pacific University Rankings. In the ShanghaiRankings’ 2017 Global Ranking of Academic Subjects which rated 52 subjects in 4000 universities, Monash was placed in the top 50 of 16 subject areas including Education, Pharmacy, Law and Chemical Engineering and placed first nationally in 11 subject areas. The rankings used the same criteria as in the THE World University Rankings where Monash came in 74th, both times behind the University of Melbourne, ANU, UQ and the University of Sydney. This follows the recognition from Reuters naming Monash the most innovative university in Australia and the QS World University Rankings where Monash came in 60th.

 

Relaxed Visas for University Staff

The government has made amendments to the April immigration reforms that now result in international academics and university leaders being eligible for four year visas and a pathway to permanent residency, however university tutors have completely been removed from skilled occupation lists for visas. The initial immigration reforms announced earlier affected temporary foreign workers in replacing the four-year visa system with more restrictive two or four year visas which removed many academic positions from being eligible. The Turnbull government has now done a backflip and restored lecturers, vice-chancellors, faculty heads alongside other scientific and technical roles to the skilled migration list, allowing these workers to have four-year visas and a permanent residency pathway. Universities Australia has secured a government commitment that the time PhD students spend studying towards their doctorate will be counted at work experience when applying for a skilled visa.

 

M City Monash

A $1bn mixed-use development has been announced in Clayton which will include 635 apartments, a hotel, offices and a retail precinct. Monash University students are a major target for the project as it is only a 20 minute walk away on the corner of Blackburn Rd and Princes Hwy. Construction is slated to begin soon and is expected to be completed by 2021.

 

Matheson Library Refurbishment Complete

Navigating around the seemingly endless construction has become an integral part of the typical day at Monash. However, part of the barricade separating us and a detour free pathway has been taken down, in the long awaited reopening of the Matheson Library. The refurbishment has brought Math a long way from the 1970s architecture chic, lined with asbestos and musty stairwells. It now features touch screen maps, self-serve book checkouts and even a cafe serving up caffeine and sweet treats sorely needed during a study break mere metres away instead of leaving books unattended while making the hike to campus centre. Come on down to study or just revel in the fact that one of our libraries is actually pretty cool, modern and hip with the times.

 

Joe’s Pizzeria Opens

In food news, Joe’s pizza has finally reopened, bigger and better after a semester long hiatus. Not only can you grab one of their infamous mouth-watering pizza slices to go but Joe’s has now expanded to serve up a range of gourmet pasta, trendy main courses and your daily coffee fix. In their first day of opening, they were serving up $1 slices, many students taking advantage of this deal and lining up to get entire pizza boxes filled. Find them on Sports Walk next to Schnitz.

 

‘Uni Dropout Rates’

New data has shown that one in three Australian students are not completing their university degree within six years. The Education Department has recorded that Monash had a low dropout rate, with just 11.15 per cent of first-year students leaving their courses. Swinburne University has the highest dropout rate in the state, with nearly 30 percent of first-year students leaving their courses.  Federal Education and Training Minister, Simon Birmingham, has stated in response to around one in three students failing to complete the course they initially enrol in, “that it’s a reminder to students as they consider university offers now to think carefully about what the course is and what the university is and make sure it is a good fit for them for the future”. Studying online is a major risk factor in dropping out, because people who study online are likely to have many competing demands for their time. When Swinburne launched Swinburne Online, their dropout rates rose. Completion rates are also lower for Indigenous students, external students, students over 25 years, remote students and students from low socio and economic backgrounds. What institutions, governments, facilities, departments and teachers can do to reduce attrition can include:

  1.   Develop Students’ involvement and sense of belonging: Many students feel that they create a sense of belonging from participating in extracurricular activities such as joining a sport. Other students affiliate a sense of belonging with a specific place on campus where they can congregate with the fellow students for example an indigenous common lounge.
  2.   Support student transition and interaction: Students are better integrated into university with a clear comprehensive orientation and introduction into their studies.
  3.   Give early and frequent feedback on progress: Allowing students to have a strong understanding of what is expected of them and offer encourage and support if they are not meeting their learning goals can result in more students persisting in their course.
  4.   Improve student funding and support: Disadvantaged students are more likely to drop out because of pressures concerning finance, family obligations, health or stress.

 

Jaywalking Fines at Monash Bus Loop

There have been reports that police have fined Monash students caught jaywalking at the bus loop. Students were issued on the spot fines if found to be crossing the road illegally. The Road Safety Road Rules 2009 state that if a pedestrian light is red or orange and a pedestrian has not already entered, they must remain until the light turns green. If a person is caught within 15 metres of a traffic control signal and does not obey that signal they can then receive a fine. A jaywalking fine generally amounts to $72 and does not affect demerit points. This is not the first time at Monash that police have patrolled for jaywalking, as it has also occurred in 2011, 2013 and 2016.

 

Petition to ‘Fix Parking’

Monash Student Association has launched a petition to the university, regarding the parking situation at Monash. It calls for the carpooling fee to be abolished, cheaper fines, expansion of free parking that is closer to Clayton campus in addition to “more affordable parking permits and daily tickets”. The MSA argues that permit and ticket prices have continued to rise when students are already struggling financially, labelling the cost of parking at Monash as “ridiculous”, as parking spots on campus for those even with a permit are highly competitive. They also propose that the fee on carpooling greatly hinders its ability to reduce its intended effect, to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number that individually drive and that the current infringement system has not only very expensive fines but also unfair processes, highlighting the rigid appeal process. The cost of the yearly Blue permit rose from $400 to $405 this year, selling out very early into semester. At the time of writing, the petition has 283 signatures.

 

Ongoing issues affecting students ability to study: Charging devices and lecture recordings

Due to the lack of adequate power points in many lecture theatres and tutorial rooms, many Monash students are unable to participate fully and receive the best of their education. This is a pertinent issue, particularly in older lecture theatres such as the Rotunda where R1 has about 2 power ports for roughly 300 students. If a student forgets to bring their charger for a device with short-lasting battery, there are also currently very limited options to gain access to a charger short of asking Monash Stalkerspace. Law students are yet also still disadvantaged in comparison to other faculties with a large portion of subject lectures not recorded.

In order to address these issues, it is reported that the Vice-Provost of Learning and Teaching and the Buildings and Properties Division (BPD) have planned a few measures. It is understood that older buildings including the Rotunda and Engineering rooms are built on concrete slabs, and as current power supplies are not sufficient for increased power points, there is an inability to re-route any systems to accommodate these requests. Perceived simple fixes such as an extension board are also likely not possible due to safety and building regulations. All new constructions aimed for educational purposes however will have power supplies at a ratio of 1:3 students per power point. We can also expect that any new lecture theatres will continue to have power points for each student as is in C1 or South One.

It appears that the Buildings and Properties Division will also be introducing some lockers where students can charge their devices in a secure area, some lockers are already functional but not many students have engaged in their use due to the lack of knowledge of them. BPD have conducted a power usage report finding that power supplies to some particular lecture theatres including E3 and Central Theatre were being underused, hence assisting in more effective allocation of power in the future. Eventually Monash will expect students to be able to “charge from the cloud”, potentially deeming power points to be redundant, however that is not likely to be implemented for as long as the current student body remains students for. There have been no developments on different laptop chargers being provided for students use, the MSA in the past have installed charging stations which may be a possibility in the future in the John Medley Library, but for all devices. There has also not yet been a sweeping change to the Law faculty’s resistance to lecture recordings but according to students, there has been a notable improvement on subjects that are recorded.

 

Satisfaction Rates Not Great

Data from the federal Department of Education show that students at private universities have rated the quality of their experience the highest of all universities as students from 6 of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities are less satisfied with their education than the national average with 80% of students rating the quality of their entire educational experience as positive. Bond University and the University of Notre Dame had the highest approval ratings, slightly above 90%. Edith Cowan University was the most highly rated public institution with the satisfaction rate of 85.7%. Students from the University of Queensland and Monash University were the only ones from Go8 to be more satisfied than the average with Monash scoring just above at 80.4%. Students at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) have the lowest satisfaction score at 72%, with a drop in the rating consistent with a change last year from semesters to trimesters and lectures to interactive tutorials.Other universities including Monash are expected to adapt their learning and teaching approaches similarly in a largely transformative time for many teaching and learning departments at universities, moving away from a predominantly lecture based teaching method.

 

#420UniMelb

A pilot program run by the University of Melbourne has been granted $466,000 by the Turnbull Government to research the best methods of extraction of the parts from marijuana plants that are effective in pain relief, whilst separating out the pychoactive components. Working in conjunction with Under The Three Biopharmaceuticals, the program will study which cannabis crops are optimal in Australian conditions. The research may lead to larger scale legitimate local production and allow Australia to become a “major player” in marijuana crop production as proclaimed by Professor Tony Bacic (director of the plant cell biology research centre) a member of the unimelb research team, eventually also allowing patients to legally seek treatment for medicinal cannabis. Education Minister Simon Birmingham said “we can see clear benefits of having local medicinal cannabis production and a local supply chain for the many patients that stand to gain from the use of medicinal cannabis products.” The first medicinal cannabis crop in Australia, grown in Victoria, should be available for treatment mid-2017 as supplies imported from Canada are already in use, treating seizures in 29 children.

 

Victoria University Facing Troubling Times

There have been concerns raised over Victoria University’s (VU) new pilot program whereby roughly 140 students are being enrolled in TAFE certificates, in order to prepare for university degrees for which the students are already undertaking. The expansion of the program is set to follow next year with a new separate college for first year students in order to attempt to curb student dissatisfaction, low retention rates and assist their poor financial situation. Scepticism has been expressed as this method, however, as students that are the most unprepared, with low ATARs and lesser academic standards would be expected to take on additional units.The program allows the university to receive both federal and state funding for students simultaneously, causing apprehension over VU’s double-dipping. The state government provides funding for the certificate IV in tertiary preparation which is designed as a bridging aid for students transitioning to university. This comes in the midst of large scale job cuts at VU, with up to 115 staff to be made redundant after VU has experienced heavy deficits in the past few years. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) have criticised the move as cutting costs simply by degrading the level of skill for required for staff and therefore lowering the quality of teaching, and placing severe limitations on academic research. There will be about 50 new junior roles available for redundant staff to apply for at the new college. As reported by The Age, at this stage, State and Federal departments have expressed no issues with the program and the concurrent study of the different qualifications.

 

Campus Report

 

Stalking StalkerSpace

We all know and love StalkerSpace, the place that provides Monash students with all the memes and banter they could ever need. The page is a way for all students at Monash to feel connected to each other and part of a community. However, this has been upset with a recent increase in negative posts and comments on the page. There has now been numerous reports submitted to Facebook of offensive and aggravating behaviour on StalkerSpace.

This includes trolling – the act of posting inflammatory material online, in order to provoke or insult others. A small number of individuals and groups have unfortunately been given an online space that enables them to spread disrespectful messages to many. It can be particularly harmful in a place like Monash, where people come together from many different countries, cultures, and religions.

It comes as the trend of trolling and cyberbullying increases everywhere, particularly in schools and university environments. The rise has been linked to a sense of anonymity that technology provides. The safety of sitting behind a screen means that it is a lot easier to insult someone, rather than being face to face. On Monash StalkerSpace, the issue may be exacerbated at times from contributors that are not Monash students but are able to join in on the ‘trolling’ due to the nature of the page. There have been consequences for people expressing extreme views on public forums on the past, a recent example is Kurt Tucker who expressed on a Facebook post that he would have joined the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s. A prominent member of the Young Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland, after media outlets reported his comments, he has now resigned from all party positions after a statement of apology. Students with leadership positions or even staff members on StalkerSpace are particularly at stake if they choose to publically troll, humilate or cyberbully.

So what can we do to save our beloved space from this troubling minority? While there are some options, none of them are guaranteed. When Deakin University had a similar problem several years ago on ‘Deakin University StalkerSpace’ (DUSS), it led to the switch to their current, private group. Those who wish to join must submit a valid Deakin email address, which is then approved by the administrators. This restricts those who join just to promote offensive behaviour, additionally it is easier to remove them. Otherwise, another option is to report an offending post to the administrators, which is a fast way to have something you find insulting removed. However, this is a method that is often not considered or is done too late for it to have any impact, especially as it seems like the admins of the group are not actively moderating posts or discussion. Some students or now ex-students that have been a part of the group for many years have expressed ambivalence as the transformation of StalkerSpace into an increasingly negative space, arguing that the group goes through cycles. We can support people who may be suffering from online abuse and encourage our friends not to engage in negative or derogatory conversations.

 

Sexual assault and inappropriate conduct on the rise

Apparently nowhere is safe now for uni students, and young women, no matter if it’s on the train or bus on the way home from class, or staying at uni to study in the library, minding your own business. If you use public transport on the Frankston line, be wary. Recently there have been reports of at least two sexual assaults in two separate incidents by the same unknown man. The first incident happened in November of last year, as the 21 year old victim was travelling by train, the perpetrator got on at Carnegie Station and sat next to her before sexually assaulting her. The same man is believed to have sexually assaulted another victim, a teenage girl in February this year on public transport. In other sexually inappropriate news, there have also been reports of a middle aged Asian man having his dick out in the open for anyone to see, in the lower level of HAL library. Both of these offenders have yet to be caught as security have been spotted outside campus libraries with photos of people, potentially looking of for the perpetrators.

 

Driving struggles: #JustDrivingThings

Driving to uni is always a struggle, whether if it’s on 3 hours sleep and 2 regular coffees to an 8am lecture, or trying to get a park anytime between 9am-4pm that’s on the first level at eng. Recently, driving has appeared to become more of a struggle for a few people in particular, with the infamous ‘dash cam incident’, that made it from top Stalkerspace post to an actual news article in the Leader. Long story short, Commerce and Law student Brendan Hui was driving and the Mazda in front of him attempted a ‘cheeky shortcut’ to get to their free car spot in mind, not once, but twice, seemingly undeterred by the pole that blocked the way between them crossing the threshold at a zebra crossing. In other news, other driving struggles that did not involve the struggling driver in question being at fault, was another driver who had the unfortunate pleasure of being the victim of a fallen tree onto their bonnet due to the crazy Melbourne weather and the fact that a lot of the trees on campus have been there since the dawn of humankind. Hopefully insurance covers both of these incidents – but to everyone else, safe driving!

 

Students shave for a cure

The Monash Residential Committee’s first event of the year – The Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave took place on the 20th March out on the College Green. The aim of the cause is to raise awareness for Leukemia, of which 35 people are diagnosed every day. Individuals either volunteered to dyeing, cutting or shaving their head and waxing their body. The event of course also included quality music and a free BBQ. There was a crowd of approximately 80 spectators with 15-20 participants. The total amount raised was an incredible $6,153.65, which will go towards to support blood cancer research. This also marked more funds being raised than last year.

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Student Affairs

Being Sick is Expensive

Being Sick is Expensive (Michelle Farrelly)

 

You know what’s more difficult than being sick? Being sick and being charged for the privilege.

You’re 16, a teenager, and the world seems full of opportunities. Then one day you get sick. You shrug it off and try to keep going, hoping it’ll go away soon. But a week passes, then a month, and you don’t feel any better. You might even feel worse.

You go to see a doctor. They brush you off. “You’re just stressed,” they say. Your parents seem to agree with the doctor; after all it’s normal to be stressed during VCE, right?

It doesn’t improve. You insist on seeing more doctors, but they all say the same thing. Your parents are getting less and less willing to take you to appointments. You start doubting yourself as well. Are you just making a big deal out of nothing? Maybe everyone feels this way and you’re the only one weak enough to complain?

Several doctors later something changes. This doctor is still sceptical, but you manage to convince them that something needs to be done. They give you a referral to a specialist and it’s amazing; finally, some progress!

The specialist appointment is a few months wait away. When the day finally arrives you’re nervous, but eager for some answers. Walking into the waiting room, you notice that everyone else seems to be at least 50 years older. Self-conscious, you try not to contemplate their possible thoughts on your presence.

After the appointment, you go to pay. It’s a bit over $100, though half is to be refunded by Medicare. You’re grateful that Australia at least has an okay healthcare system.

It starts with a specialist appointment every three months, and one prescription a month. This eventually turns into two. It’s an average of $35 dollars a month since you have a health care card, but it would cost significantly more without one. The possibility of not having a health care card one day makes you terrified and anxious. You overhear people at school talking about buying stuff on eBay with their spending money.

Then comes election time. Politicians discuss government spending. You read an article about the burden of sick people on taxpayers. You’re told that you’re a drain on the rest of the country. You struggle with a declining sense of self worth.

Several years later, you’re at university. Balancing university and appointments is hard, and it becomes even harder when your specialist suggests a hospital treatment. You don’t get to choose the time of your treatment when you’re on a public waitlist, so it coincides with the beginning of the semester. It’s a bit weird trying to study in a hospital bed, but it works. All your meals are taken care of which is a small blessing – something about the combination of not needing to cook and free food…

When you’re discharged the nurse keeps offering to call you a taxi. You don’t even consider it because damn, taxis are expensive. They warn you against trying to catch public transport home, but they can’t exactly stop you, so you do it anyway.

You’ve learnt to take most things in stride, but out of all these things, it’s the cost of the proposed medication for yet another illness that gives you pause. It isn’t on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), so you have to pay the full price with no discount. Each pill costs about a dollar and you need two a day, which means paying a terrible $60 per month for the privilege of slightly improved (but still not ‘normal’) functioning. You reluctantly agree to give the drug a try – what choice do you have?

You’re now 22, a young adult, and you can’t function as well as a healthy person. The world of opportunities you believed in when you were 16 feels more like a distant dream. You didn’t ask for this experience. None of it is even remotely your fault. But when you’re chronically ill, life is not even remotely fair.

***

This is an example of life with chronic illness in Australia. The sad thing is, the stresses of existing while sick in Australia is felt tenfold in countries like the U.S. I have no solution for this, I just hope that what I’ve written might increase your compassion for those who are often unwell. We are more than a burden on the healthy, we are real people with hopes and dreams and feelings.

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Student Affairs

The Exchange Dilemma

The Exchange Dilemma (Elsie Dusting)

 

How often should you travel during an exchange in Europe? To many, the answer seems obvious: you should travel as much as you can. There are many interesting cities to visit and they are all in such close proximity to each other. I spent more than a year in Germany on exchange at the University of Heidelberg, and I met many students who wanted to fill their passport with stamps as fast as possible. At first, I was the same, but as I spent more time in Germany – and began to feel at home there – I started to think differently. What if exchange in Europe isn’t about conquering the continent? What if there are lessons to be learnt simply by staying put?

As Australians, we live on an isolated continent. We must travel by plane for several hours to get to any other country, so it is tempting to visit seemingly exotic and interesting places whilst studying abroad. But at the same time, we should ask ourselves, what are we missing out on as a result? On exchange in Europe the Australian student faces a dilemma: do I travel and experience new things as often as I can, leaving behind the city I live in, or do I stay mostly in the one place, integrate myself totally into local life? In my experience, it is worth spending more time in the city and country where you study. After my year abroad I’ve become an advocate of an immersed exchange rather than a dispersed exchange.

Towards the end of my time in Germany I was often asked how many countries I had visited. To me it didn’t seem strange that I hadn’t tried to visit as many as possible. For the most part I had only travelled when an interesting opportunity presented itself and when I had proper holidays. Most people expected me to list fifteen or so different countries; after all, I had been in Europe for more than twelve months. To their disappointment however, I could only ever say that I had been to a handful of places, and they seemed to think this somehow detracted from my overall experience; as if exchange was synonymous with city-hopping. During my time in Germany I tried my best to live and study like a German student, because I wanted an immersive experience.

When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, so I observed how the students of Heidelberg spent their free time, and behaved accordingly. The typical student did not skip classes to fly to Santorini or Sicily on the weekend. The students in Heidelberg study hard during the week and play even harder on the weekend in the many bars throughout the old town. And if the weather is especially nice, they travel by bike to visit medieval villages and castles in the forest around the city, often stopping to have a beer. Heidelberg is a city rich in history, there are ruined monasteries and castles, and the city itself has one of the best-preserved baroque city centres of any town in Germany. If I had left the city every weekend to visit somewhere else in Europe I would never have experienced the city to this extent.

It may not sound as exotic as a weekend in the Greek islands, but I found it so much more rewarding to live like this for twelve months rather than trying to travel across Europe in bucket list fashion. I always noticed that the students who did this never really settled into Heidelberg, never got to know the traditions of the oldest university town in Germany, and moreover, were always frantically trying to finish assignments. By the end of my time in Heidelberg I had developed a deep connection to the city and its history and I felt a real sense of belonging. Many believe that is enriching to go off to Europe and visit all the sights, take all the classic selfies and come back being able to boast that you visited twenty or so countries during your exchange. However, if you do this at the expense of becoming a proper exchange student, then your travel is superficial, not enriching.

As Monash students, we can spend a maximum of two semesters on exchange, and city hopping in Europe can always be done at a later stage. I’d like to emphasise that you can always be a tourist in Europe, but you’re only an exchange student once in your undergraduate life. Contiki tour-style travel is a hollow way to do an exchange. Your Instagram account might look fantastic at the end of twelve months, but you don’t know how it truly is to live and study in another county. Of course, I am not advocating that everyone goes cold turkey, so to speak, and not travel at all during exchange. I just recommend a sensible number of trips; don’t overload it and put pressure on yourself to traverse the entire continent. Discover what the city you live in has to offer, you might be surprised and find many rewarding experiences, especially if it’s a student town.

Exchange will always be a personal experience; it will always be slightly different for everyone. I certainly had the best time by travelling somewhat conservatively and staying in Heidelberg. I saw a jazz concert in a cellar, I hiked in the forested hills around the city and I had a picnic with friends in the gardens of a ruined castle, and it was all made more special because I had a connection to Heidelberg. I wasn’t just a visitor; I was a real resident of the city. The most rewarding exchange is not one where you take the most selfies in front of the most landmarks, it’s the one where you become engaged and feel at home in a new place. We should evaluate our exchanges not by the breadth of travel, but by the depth of immersion, because when it comes to Europe, quality trumps quantity.

 

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Student Affairs

Wot’s News

Wot’s News-

 

 

Body of Former Monash Student Found Near Campus

A man has been found dead, near a stairwell in the garden of the Rusden House apartments located adjacent from Monash Clayton campus. The body was discovered partially under a bush, near the rear car park entrance at 9:20am on Friday the 14th of April. Police say that the body may have been there for hours. At the time of writing, the case is being treated as a homicide as they believe a weapon was used. The victim, said to be of Asian appearance and aged in his late 20s to early 30s, has been identified as a friendly accountant who enjoyed playing basketball and keeping fit. It is understood that the man’s parents are flying from China to Melbourne to attempt to find answers to his death. His heartbroken family have asked not to disclose the victim’s name until his relatives residing overseas have been notified. A post-mortem had been carried out on the day following the finding. The homicide squad was seen dusting for fingerprints, searching drains for the weapon and seeking any information from locals. Footage from the apartment complex’s CCTV cameras may find useful in the investigation. The murderer is assumed to be at large. Rusden House is primarily used as student accommodation. Police and the victim’s family are appealing to anyone with any information of the incident or who may have been in the vicinity, the night before the discovery. Crime Stoppers can be reached anonymously on 1800 333 000 or at www.crimestoppers.com.au

 

Postgraduate Students Call for Transport Concessions

Students are calling on the Victorian Government to offer concession public transport to all full-time domestic and international postgraduate students through the #FaresFairPTV campaign. Currently, Victoria is the only state where all postgraduate students are ineligible for student concession tickets when using public transport. The campaign has been organised by a coalition of five student associations, including the Monash Postgraduate Association (MPA) and are currently undertaking postcard and email writing actions to inform MPs of the importance of postgraduate student concessions. The Fare Fair PTV campaign can be followed through their website or social media channels and students can support the current initiatives at the clayton MPA office.

 

Confusion Over Changes to Exam Cancellations

In the lead up to Semester 1 exams, Examination Services have sent out an university wide email notifying students of a change to Exam Policy, which now bars students from applying to cancel an exam if they attend it. From a direct interpretation of this email, if a student starts to sit an exam but is adversely affected by exceptional circumstances or illness, students are advised to attempt to finish their exam. This is because, according to the email, in “most circumstances” they will no longer be eligible for special consideration. Previously, students were able to apply to cancel their exam if they were unfit to complete their exam due to illness or other serious cause, provided that they informed an exam invigilator they were unable to complete the exam and intended to apply for a deferred exam at least 30 minutes before the scheduled end. If the cancellation request was not granted, the result of that examination would then be final.

In current eligibility criteria for special consideration, published on the Monash website and Special Consideration Deferred final assessment application form (March, 2017), students who are “unfit to attend or complete an end-of-semester examination” due to acute illness or exceptional cause may apply for deferred final assessment. Examples of accepted causes of acute illness include severe asthma or severe anxiety or depression.

The official Monash University procedure, Assessment in Coursework Units: Adjustments to Assessment Procedures, effective 20th March 2017, states in section 2.3 that students may be granted special consideration and deferred assessment if they are affected by a short-term or acute illness or exceptional circumstance, even if it is in an examination. Section 2.48 states that “students who attend and attempt part of the exam are not eligible for a deferred examination” and also includes the ineligibility for deferred final assessment for students who complete their final examination. Section 2.48 goes on to state that “the Dean of the unit teaching faculty may approve a deferred exam due to exceptional circumstances”, rendering the original exam results void. This directly contradicts the previous sentence. These discrepancies in policy that have been ambiguously communicated, may leave students confused and misinformed.

This change may be in response to perceived abuse of this mechanism by students ill-prepared for the exam, only realising their lack of preparation after starting the exam. Special consideration applications, however, are required to be “genuine and made in good faith” as well as have “genuine, well-attested evidence”, which would seem to deter unentitled students from seeking this avenue.

The MSA Education (Academic Affairs) department has responded to the change with great concern. They have pointed out that the new ‘Assessment Procedures’ were not in line with the recommendations made by the Learning and Teaching Committee that were agreed to in a meeting of the University’s Academic Board. They provide provisions for students who were affected by exceptional circumstances or acute illness during an exam to receive special consideration or to sit a deferred exam. They also outlined the conflicting positions in the ‘Assessment Procedures’, specifically in regards to the aforementioned sections 2.3, 2.24 and 2.48, reassuring students that they are seeking clarification on policy inconsistencies and advocating for students who may be unfairly disadvantaged.

 

Wholefoods Gets Eftpos

Monash Wholefoods has finally introduced Eftpos machines on its 40th anniversary, enabling students not carrying cash to purchase from there. Wholefoods has been in operation since 1977 as a student-run, not-for-profit vegetarian restaurant that operates from a base of volunteers. The Wholefoods Collective is the decision making body using “consensus driven decision making procedures” that allowed Eftpos machines to be installed.The Wholefoods Collective explained the reasoning behind the decision, which was driven by financial factors, since the restaurant faced adverse market conditions in the last year, with many new food outlets opening and their renowned balcony stairs removed as part of the Northern Plaza renovations. It was also driven by the fact Wholefoods is a division of the MSA, which uses the Commonwealth Bank (Commbank) for day-to-day banking. As such, they have to use the same bank. Wholefoods Collective are opposed to banking with Commbank, to giving them 2% of each Eftpos transaction due to their “well-established track record in funding fossil fuels, and in land grabs that perpetuate human rights violations”. In Australia, the Commonwealth Bank is currently the 2nd largest funder of fossil fuels at $20.5billion behind ANZ at $23.4billion. Banks with no current record of funding fossil fuels include Bendigo Bank, Delphi Bank, IMB, ME Bank and the Bank of Queensland. This year, however, with a new Investment policy, the MSA has divested $5 million from Commbank into a managed fund partaking in ethical investments. In order for Wholefoods to stay “financially viable” in an increasingly cashless society, and due to the MSA’s divestments, Wholefoods has introduced Eftpos since“the logic of convenience sometimes has to win over the logic of resistance”. Wholefoods still encourages people to pay cash and are pushing for an ethical bank to open on campus in the future to fully divest from funding fossil fuels. Fossil Free Monash is an organisation aimed at campaigning the university to divest their investments from fossil free companies. Wholefoods has been involved in their campaigns.

 

Petition to ‘Fix Parking’

Monash Student Association has launched a petition regarding the parking situation at Monash. It calls for carpooling fees to be abolished, cheaper fines, expansion of free parking closer to Clayton campus, and “more affordable parking permits and daily tickets”. The MSA argues that permit and ticket prices continue to rise while students struggle financially, labelling  parking costs at Monash as “ridiculous”, whilst parking spots for those even with a permit are highly competitive. They also propose that the carpooling fee inhibits its intended effect: to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number that drive alone and that the current infringement system has not only very expensive fines but also unfair processes, highlighting the rigid appeal process. The cost of the yearly Blue permit, selling out very early, rose from $400 to $405 this year.

 

New Software for Online Tests

A new custom internet browser that ensures students do not cheat, is being trialled for faculties introducing closed book online assessments. The Respondus Lockdown Browser disallows students from accessing any other materials, programs or functions on their computer whilst completing certain assessments. The assessments are only accessible via Moodle by way of this full-screened software. There is also a webcam feature, the Respondus Monitor, which records the student for the entire length of the assessment. This feature requires that students do not leave their device for the entirety of the assessment, including for any bathroom breaks, and even to not write any notes on scrap paper as that may be deemed ‘suspicious’. Whether this is used or not will depend on the discretion of each examining faculty, however in this trial period, it is currently being employed for assessments. Installation of this software requires a computer with certain requirements, including a webcam and microphone for the monitoring software. Regardless, students will be catered for with an on campus facility, in case they are unable to use the software on their own computers.

According to Monash eSolutions, the primary purpose of the Respondus Lockdown browser is to “increase the integrity of the conditions” in which online examinations and quizzes take place, especially in light of their increased prevalence and online-only courses. By using this software, Monash is attempting to stamp out academic dishonesty and collusion with an “alternative to a ‘traditional’ in-person invigilated exam”. In introducing this software to students, Monash has emphasised the “ethical academic community” in which students belong to, “that is committed to upholding high standards of honesty, fairness and academic integrity”, which is fundamental for the “online learning and assessment environment”. Monash is also quick to point out that over 300 universities worldwide and 16 domestic tertiary education institutes employ the same software, including the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney. Along with indications from the lack of large capacity lecture theatres in the new Teaching and Learning and Biomedical Sciences Buildings, this software that enables for even greater proliferation of online assessments shows the radically changing way that Monash envisions their delivery of teaching. This software was recently used for the first time for students studying Medicine, in the Year 1 and 2 mid-semester tests. This was partly due to lack of available space on campus for the in-person assessments as well as future proposed changes to the structure of assessment for the course. It was implemented successfully to varying degrees; some students had no problems whatsoever, whilst others experienced timer errors causing the software to shut down, internet connection problems, or issues with being unable to use the bathroom in the assessment period. Most issues faced by students could be resolved by the Medicine E-Learning or Respondus support teams, however some students will be forced to resit a revised test. The primary benefit from the new format has been that students have been able to receive almost immediate feedback from Moodle itself, being able to review the questions and their answers in their entirety. So far, the online assessments will not be extended to end of semester examinations and it has been suggested the Respondus Monitor may not be used in the future to allow for bathroom breaks.

 

Berwick Campus Closure Forces Students to Move

The cessation of teaching at Monash’s Berwick campus, scheduled for the end of 2017, has compelled many students to transfer to either Clayton or Peninsula campus to complete their Monash degree. Final year Education students and those studying the Bachelor of Business Administration are the only students able to finish their degree at Berwick. The closure has been attributed to low enrolment rates for the limited range of courses offered at Berwick. Despite efforts to grow and develop the campus over the past 20 years, only 1,600 students studied there in 2016. After a partnership with Victoria University to take over the campus fell through, Federation University Australia came forward to take responsibility for the campus, planning to deliver 15 courses across 4 faculties. Monash sees the transition as a positive move for the local community, as Federation University is offering a greater range of courses, more suitable for the area. Monash is instead focusing its growth on other campuses, promising a new campus MasterPlan for the Peninsula campus. While this is a sustainable decision in the long run, for students currently studying at Berwick, or those who have only recently received and accepted an offer to study there, this is extremely frustrating. Students who had transport and housing situations arranged in order to study there will now be forced to uproot and base their lives around a completely different campus. Hopefully, with the transition this year, Berwick students will be able to adapt to this sudden change with minimal impact to their study. In certain circumstances, students may be able to receive special consideration through a hardship claim for the transfer of their home campus.

 

MSA Feedback Survey

Monash Student Association (MSA) has launched a feedback survey, in order for Monash students to directly voice their concerns. Responses will be used by the elected Office-Bearers to inform their actions and shape their projects, services, events, campaigns and support they provide throughout the year. Students must be logged in to their my.monash account to fill out the Google Form that is available through MSA channels, such as their website and Facebook page. Respondents will be entered in a draw to win 1 of 50 $10 MSA vouchers available for use of MSA services. In addition to the elected positions, other MSA departments include Sir John’s Bar, Student Advocacy and Support, the John Medley Library and Host Scheme and Volunteering.

 

Concerning Satisfaction Rates at Group of Eight Universities

Data just released from the Federal Department of Education shows that students at private universities have rated the quality of their experience at university the highest of all Australian universities. The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) from Student Experience Survey (SES) indicate that students from 6 of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities are less satisfied with their education than the national average with 80% of students rating the quality of their entire educational experience as positive. Bond University and the University of Notre Dame had the highest approval ratings, slightly above 90%. Edith Cowan University was the most highly rated public institution with the satisfaction rate of 85.7%. Students from the University of Queensland and Monash University were the only ones from Go8 to be more satisfied than the average, with Monash scoring just above at 80.4%. Students at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) have the lowest satisfaction score at 72%, with a drop in the rating consistent with a change last year from semesters to trimesters and lectures to interactive tutorials. Other universities, including Monash, are expected to adapt their learning and teaching approaches similarly in a largely transformative time for many teaching and learning departments at universities, moving away from a predominantly lecture based teaching method.

 

Penalty Rates Cut

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has handed down its 4 yearly review of modern awards after 29 days of hearings and over 5,900 submissions, resulting in proposed penalty rate cuts in hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy industries. This will affect workers that are not under an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. Sunday rates have been cut across the board by 25-50%, bar for casuals in the hospitality industry or level 2-3 employees in fast food. Public holiday loading rates have also been reduced for workers across the 5 industries by 25% except for casual restaurant workers. The public holiday penalty cuts will come into effect on 1 July 2017 with Sunday rate cuts to be implemented at a yet-to-be-determined date after transitional arrangements, likely within a year. Early/late night loadings will also be altered for Restaurant and Fast Food employees, reducing the time frame in which they are applicable. FWC recognised that the employees affected were relatively low paid and that their living standards would be reduced, however justified their decision as the primary purpose of penalty rates were to compensate for the disutility of the days or times affected. The Liberal government has been accused of appointing a series of conservative members to the FWC. The decision has been highly criticised by unions, think-tanks, the Labor party and the former Reserve Bank of Australia Governor, Bernie Fraser, arguing almost 1 million workers would receive huge pay cuts, unfairly affecting the most disadvantaged employees, increasing inequality and accelerating the “mass casualization of the Australian workforce”.

 

Campus Report

Stalking StalkerSpace

We all know and love Monash StalkerSpace, the place that provides Monash students with all the memes and banter they could ever need. The page is a way for students at Monash to feel connected and part of a community. However, many students are upset with a recent increase in negative posts and comments on StalkerSpace. There have now been numerous reports submitted to Facebook of offensive and aggravating behaviour occurring on StalkerSpace. This includes trolling – the act of posting inflammatory material online, in order to provoke or insult others. A small number of individuals and groups have unfortunately used this online space to spread disrespectful messages to many. It comes as the trend of trolling and cyberbullying increases everywhere, particularly in educational environments. The rise has been linked to the anonymity that the internet can provide. The safety of sitting behind a screen, rather than being face to face, means that it is a lot easier to insult someone,. On StalkerSpace, the issue may be exacerbated at times from those who are not student but rather there to join in on the ‘trolling’. There have been consequences for people expressing extreme views on public forums on the past; a recent example is Kurt Tucker, who expressed on a Facebook post that he would have joined the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s. Tucker is a prominent member of the Young Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland, and after media outlets reported his comments, he has now resigned from all party positions after a statement of apology.

So what can we do to save our beloved space from this troubling minority? While there are options, none of them are guaranteed. When Deakin University had a similar problem several years ago on ‘Deakin University StalkerSpace’ (DUSS), it led to the switch to their current, private group. Those who wish to join must submit a valid Deakin email address, which is then approved by the administrators. This restricts those who join just to promote offensive behaviour. Otherwise, another option is to report an offending post to the administrators, which is a fast way to have something you find insulting removed. However, this is a method that is often not considered or is done too late for it to have any impact, especially as the admins of the group cannot constantly moderate every post. Some students or now ex-students that have been a part of the group for many years have expressed ambivalence at the transformation of StalkerSpace into an increasingly negative space, arguing that the group goes through cycles.

 

Sexual Assault and Inappropriate Conduct on the Rise

Apparently nowhere is safe now for uni students, and young women, no matter if it’s on the train or bus on the way home from class, or staying back at uni studying in the library, minding your own business. Recently there have been reports of at least two sexual assaults in two separate incidents by the same unknown man. The first incident occurred last November. As the 21-year-old victim was travelling by train, the perpetrator got on at Carnegie Station and sat next to her before sexually assaulting her. The same man is believed to have sexually assaulted another victim, a teenage girl this February on public transport. In other news, it has been alleged that a middle-aged Asian man exposed himself on the lower level of the Hargrave Andrew Library. Both alleged offenders have not yet been apprehended.

 

Students Shave For a Cure

The Monash Residential Committee’s first event of the year,The Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave, took place on  March 20th out on the College Green. The aim of the cause is to raise awareness for Leukaemia, of which 35 people are diagnosed every day. Participants volunteered to have their hair dyed, cut or shaved  or their bodies waxed. Approximately 80 spectators enjoyed some quality music and a free BBQ whilst watching the participants. The total amount raised was an incredible $6,153.65, an increase on last year’s figure, which will go towards to support blood cancer research.

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Student Affairs

The Sweet Life, The Real Life

The Sweet Life, the Real Life

 

University is one of the most important stages of an individual’s life with ‘student life’ regarded as the most memorable part of Uni memories. Similar to Melbourne coffee culture, student life is a distinct culture that Monash University translates as: ‘Joining clubs, making new friends, getting involved with opportunities on campus and in general, cherishing shared experiences’. Over tacos and tequila at Sir John’s Bar, I discovered that Uni and the student experience keeps improving with each successive year. Better, in terms of adjusting to the grind of Uni life, starting and submitting assignments on the same day (possible, but not advisable), achieving HDs without a single textbook, laughing at innocent jaffys, knowing the cheapest everything on and around campus… the list is endless. As students, we tend to graciously or sometimes grudgingly accept all that is served on our plate during these 4 or so years. However, I wish to address several niggling problems that lurk beneath the facade of a vibrant campus experience. Let us remove the rose-tinted glasses for a while and explore the academic and non-academic issues that we experience, but rarely ever discuss (Stalkerspace memes do not count as discussion).

Studying at Uni is equivalent to a full-time workload. Lecture recordings are a lifesaver, especially for those who work/cannot make it to class, but even then, the stress of managing assignments is enough to unnerve a fifth year student. Sleep schedules are often the most abused among students because as Aster explains, “one can get so much work done in those hours” instead of wasting time. The casual attitude towards one’s body and its needs frightens me, because we are not as invincible as we believe. A study at Washington State University discovered that 55% of young adults aged 18-29 wake up feeling tired and craving more rest. Along with sleepiness, decreased concentration and subsequently lower grades, sleep deprivation is also linked to increased alcohol and drug use.

Fuelling the sleepy and stressed student culture, is the need to work to survive through exorbitantly priced degrees. Third year Arts/Law student Tash considers this a challenge, “weighing up between doing lots of hours at a job to live comfortably or sacrificing paid work to give myself more time to focus on Uni”. A friend working part-time at an administrative job shares that there is always too much pressure to compromise, either by means of a rushed assignment or taking a day off to study for an exam. We speak lightly of stress, but it suffocates us for a whole semester.

Other contributing factors include a fickle Eduroam, Moodle tantrums, pricey textbooks and parking permits that chew away at our thin wallets. Denise adds that there is a huge gap between lecture and tutorial questions, and having to teach oneself 50% of the unit is not exactly an enjoyable experience. Red Dinosaur considers dealing with inter-culturally incompetent staff as a struggle. Skipping lectures, feeling demotivated and discriminated against are just some of the problems that arise when teaching staff fail to engage in an approachable and patient manner with their students.

Lack of motivation is another common but often overlooked issue. It could occur for a variety of reasons: disliking a course or feeling lost, not feeling adequately challenged, being distracted or facing what I refer to as a ‘Students’ Block’. This is emotionally draining and numbing, because wanting to give up on study amidst the heavy workload is a dangerous phase. A possible solution is seeking professional assistance if need be, but most students choose not to. ‘I don’t think it would make much of a difference’ is a common misconception. Suffering in silence never helps but when the problem itself is not addressed the way it should be, silence is inevitable. As students, easy service accessibility is a primary concern, which is why Monash University’s move to cut counseling services in 2016 faced much flak from the student community. It is hypocritical: extensive promotion of mental health awareness and mindfulness on campus and ‘R U OK?’ Day, all while slashing mental health services students need, but are hesitant to actively seek.

Stressing over one’s ability to find meaningful employment post graduation is almost a rite of passage for final year students. I asked many students what they thought about their career prospects and an answer worth mentioning is – “It takes a lot of time to prepare oneself for a decent job these days”. I wonder if Uni really prepares us for the real world; are we just faces waving the same white paper in an overcrowded job market? A growing proportion of students share the realization that Uni is a dreary cycle of ‘eat-study-sleep-repeat’. Not much is happening on the work front. Sure, we have Career Connect, Career Expo, Career Gateway… yet, ‘career ready’ is not a term in our dictionary. As such, there is a need for more faculty-based networking events and I propose these should not be left only for the final year. Introducing new students to possible options and the right people will certainly go a long way in boosting their confidence, given that we live in an age of ‘whom you know is more important than what you know’.

More surprising is that even with Monash Student Association (MSA) Host Scheme Camps, faculty led peer-mentoring programs and other social events, many students are still not aware of their options. In a Moodle poll conducted last year, several students said they had not heard of Summerfest. This is discouraging given the heavy advertising and promotion that Monash undertook to publicize the weeklong event. Perhaps Monash could benefit from introducing a platform listing all kinds of events happening on campus, which would allow students to be informed about their choices. Seeing the events on offer, it is possible that students will be more likely to attend events which they know are popular among their peers, simply explained through the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) effect.

Much is desired and much can be done. University doesn’t have to be difficult. Student life is to be savored and it is small but significant changes to university administration and policy that can help us make the most of our time here.  I can only reiterate what both our motto and Sir John Monash have already established:

We are always learning, and it is our responsibility as students and as staff, to enrich and equip ourselves to ensure we offer our best to one another.

*Names of students have been changed.

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Student Affairs

All Gender Bathrooms: What They Mean and Why They Matter

Gender Neutral Bathrooms (Kim Tran)

 

Hey. Hi there. I’m a trans person, and I go to uni with you. We’ve probably been to the same classes together, walked past each other in the campus centre, tried to navigate the ever-changing maze of construction together. Turns out we have a lot in common. We study (ha), go to Sir John’s (procrastinate) and do try to decide exactly which of the myriad of meal opportunities to grace with our presence (procrastinate!) together.

You see, while we do a whole bunch of things together, my every day is very different from yours. When I wake up in the morning, I have to decide how many double takes I can manage throughout the day, whether I’m ready to #bemyself or if I’m going to take a time out and ‘fit in’. Not many of my TIGD (Trans, Intersex and Gender Diverse) peers have that choice. Some of us are hypervisible, and some of us are perceived as utterly invisible – which does not make us any less TIGD than our peers. Crash course: TIGD includes anyone who is gender diverse, transitioning, non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, occupies space in a myriad of different genders that exist in different cultures all over the world or is overall just not cisgender. ‘Cis’ = people who identify with the gender assigned to them as a tiny shrieking infant by the doctor that helped birth them. (Turns out that the soul-crushing cuss word that Piers Morgan – cultural icon and treasure of a generation – fears the most is actually just a really benign descriptor.)

I’m trying to figure out whether or not I should change my name, and whether it is worth the hassle, the strange looks, the confused asides and sometimes even the outright hostility. I usually go through my day trying to consider whether it is worth correcting people when they misgender me (Are they going to be cool? Weird? Angry?) and deciding whether it is worth arguing with those who know my pronouns but choose to ignore them anyway. I prepare my bottled smiles for the friends who do know but slip up sometimes (it’s ok) and how to fish them back out of the dark hole of self-flagellation they fall into when they do misgender me.

I’m used to being talked about like a hypothetical, mythical, far away unheard of concept rather than a real being of flesh and bones that walks amongst you every day, sits with you in tutorials, swears under their breath with you when Boost is full to bursting. And when you’re used to being talked about, talked over, or talked to as if you didn’t really, truly exist, it takes a toll. I’m trying to find the right balance between earnest and endearing without coming across as bitter and flippant.

So, as I have covered in my charming monologue above, living as a trans or gender diverse (in any way) person in our society is not easy. There are, however, ways to make the hardships a little less painful, at least until society actually finally manages to understand and accept us. One of these is the whole reason I am writing this article on Gender Neutral Bathrooms.

I was a part of a long line of students who worked really hard with the Ally Network and so many others to make this a reality. Particularly, the hard work put in by both Diversity and Inclusion and Buildings and Property was paramount in seeing these works through. Nevertheless, this took up the majority of my headspace last year. So yes, while you were going about your day I was probably thinking about toilets – and while this may seem like carefully crafted glib aside, it’s the only way I know how to introduce something I am forced to think about more often than I should. In truth, I start my day the same way a family with small children starts a road trip (Has everyone gone to the bathroom? Yes? Go again, just to make sure!). This is because I try my damndest not to have to go into a gendered bathroom during the day, for many reasons I’ll go into.

You may have noticed that there are a couple of gender-neutral bathrooms dotted across campus now, the most significant one being in Sir John’s (I’m choosing to maturely ignore all the potential toilet humor in that one). With all this change going on, I’m here to explain what exactly is happening and most importantly, why these bathrooms are needed so much.

As the name may hint at, all-gender bathrooms are bathrooms that people of any gender can use – and this finally includes any gender identity that isn’t covered by the binary definitions of just (cis) male and/or (cis) female. The moment this gender binary is the only framework we use, not only do we exclude a whole bunch of people who just don’t fall into that category (a very bitter me) but there is suddenly an expectation of how those who use the female bathrooms present as well as those who use the male bathrooms. We suddenly push a whole lot of presumptions on people who just want to use the bathroom!

Now, to properly highlight how much these bathrooms are needed, let me paint you a picture that so many non-cisgendered folks go through every day:

When gender-neutral bathrooms aren’t available, going to the bathroom to simply pee (or poop. Both. Like a champ.) is an activity fraught with second-guessing, emotion and anxiety. Every time I choose one of two doors, I feel like I suddenly need to either choose to hide my transness and do what is ‘expected’ from someone who looks like me or whether I should put myself in a position that will be either highly uncomfortable or even dangerous.

Trans students often have to endure a whole range of reactions when entering gendered bathrooms. Results may vary from the person who attempts to politely stare us out of the room as they wash their hands, to the friends trying their least to hide their laughter from us. Let’s not forget the helpful pal who tries to redirect us to the ‘correct’ bathroom and let’s really not forget the ones who use direct, outright hostility, anger, threats and violence to remove us from where they think we don’t belong. That’s a lot of payout for simply wanting to use the bathroom. In fact, TIGD people are more likely to experience disproportional vilification and violence in a bathroom. And even if it doesn’t happen that one time or even that day at all, the threat is always there. I can never approach gendered bathrooms with ease or without worrying if today is another day that entering a door is seen as an act of aggression from me.

There is also the problem that walking through one of those doors is suddenly a public statement. I can see the ‘female’/’male’ sign. So can you. And everyone else around you. As such, the moment I take one of those doors, I am either lying to myself and others about my gender for their comfort (in turn, affecting mine) or outing myself when I wouldn’t be perceived as belonging to the gender of the bathroom I’ve dared to breach. So even if everyone in the bathroom is lovely and I don’t have to worry about their reactions (or I have the bathroom entirely to myself and can poot as freely and loudly as I want to) I am still coerced into publicly declaring something about myself. Now, if we also think about how there are many wonderful people out there who don’t identify -anywhere- along the gender binary (Also me. Turns out gender is complex!), suddenly they have the choice between a lie, and another lie. Non-binary peeps *don’t* have a bathroom if there are only two gendered ones. Can you imagine not having a bathroom?

Now, the only way to help us out and avoid this whole shitstorm (heh) is to give us bathrooms we can use safely. Having all gender bathrooms at Monash is not only an issue of inclusion, but also one of safety and wellbeing for gender nonconforming students. With the current discourse on bathrooms reaching a terrifying, trans-antagonistic crescendo, it makes a huge difference to actually have the choice to go somewhere where I won’t have to experience any of the above consequences for being a human. While I am writing all this from my perspective, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that the majority of this ‘discourse’ is transmisogynistic – it affects trans women disproportionately and is antagonistic in a way that is so specific to a group of people that already undergoes an inordinate amount of both symbolic and actual violence in society both historically and in the present.

However. None of this means that these should be seen as the ‘other’ bathrooms. Anyone who is cis, please do still use these bathrooms. In fact, we go right back to how using certain bathrooms is outing if these bathrooms are only ever used by gender diverse people. Let’s not do that. These are not suddenly the bathrooms that people who aren’t cis have to use. Part of the reason we worked so hard for these bathrooms is to normalize this concept and have more gender-neutral bathrooms around the place. We want these to be normal bathrooms. Speaking of normal – we still fully promote people being able to go to the bathrooms they should have access to. For example, trans women should be able to use the women’s bathrooms without fear. And anyone who tries to say differently is entirely full of shit.

Note: This article is written from only one perspective with input from many people. Not all of our experiences are the same, and not all experiences can be covered with the depth they deserve in a short article.

We are a diverse, wonderful group of people who deserve respect and safety in the same way you do, and these all gender bathrooms go a way to achieving that.

The MSA Queer Department runs an autonomous TIGD Caucus – if you would like to be added, get information on how to navigate Monash as a TIGD student, or simply meet others and share your experiences please get in touch with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/MSAQu/ and for more information regarding LGBTIQ matters at Monash refer to monash.edu/lgbtiq.

This article could not have been written without the valuable input of Theodore Murray, Justin Jones Li, the Queer Affairs Committee, TIGD Caucus, the Ally Network and so many more amazing Queer Peers.

 

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Student Affairs

The Most Efficient Way to Learn a New Language, Proficiently

Learning a new language (Isabella Toppi)

If one more 22 year-old tells me it’s too late to start learning a language, I’m going to smack them. My grandma started learning Spanish at the ripe old age of 64. Granted, she doesn’t have work or Instagram to consume her time, but I have met so many young people who yearn to learn another language, yet whinge for lack of time. I say, if you have time to watch Netflix, read the newspaper and do your grocery shopping, you have time to learn a language. Here’s why…

A turning point for me in this endless procrastination battle was the realisation that, although you can set temporal goals for making improvements, there really is no end point for learning a language. You can’t say, “I’ll take Russian lessons for three years and then I’ll be fluent”. It’s not that black and white. Esperanto maybe, but that’s a whole different ball game. The reality is you will never speak as well as a native, but the trick is to learn efficiently so as to incorporate it into your everyday life.

First off, immersion is key. Don’t waste your time lingering around the language for five years and wonder why all you can say is “una cerveza por fis”. Sure, being able to order a beer in Mexico is useful, but what’s the point when you can’t communicate beyond that? I know a guy who, hoping to compliment a girl in a club on her makeup – which is bizarre and a mistake in itself – accidentally told her, “me gusta tu mantequilla”, which means, I like your butter.

Rather, you have to jump right into the language, surrounding yourself with it in as many ways as possible. It’s not enough to say you’ll read ten pages of a foreign book a day, or watch the nightly news on France24. You need to integrate the language into your banal quotidian activities.

So here are a few tricks I’ve picked up:

  • Lists: for example, don’t write “carrots, milk, eggs” on your shopping list. Write “Karotten, Milch, Eier” or whatever it may be. Do the same with to-do lists and reminders.
  • Movies: here is that excuse you have all been itching for, to watch Netflix without the associated guilt. Watch movies and shows in your second language. Better yet, watch movies you have already seen, without the subtitles (although I would not recommend watching 8 Mile in German, Rabbit just isn’t the same).
  • Music: discovering songs you love in your second language is so effective because you listen to them repetitively, which is the best tactic for instilling words and phrases into your long-term memory (Don’t tell anyone but reggaeton is the real reason I picked up Spanish.) Again, Swiss-German rap hasn’t yet proven so sexy though.
  • Reading and watching the News: you’ll learn so much if you follow a story you already know the general gist of. We all know Trump wants to build a wall – read about it online in your new language, as you already know the context. Judging people in other languages adds an extra spice to your life you never even knew you were missing.
  • Cooking: find recipes online in your new language, and follow them. The repetition will help you learn vocabulary, which will help you write your foreign shopping list. Never forget the word butter again, not even in the club.
  • Find a foreign lover: self-explanatory. Get rid of them as soon as they can speak English better than you can speak your chosen language.

Secondly, finding a balance between active and passive learning is crucial. So often I meet people with a decent knowledge of another language but are fearful to actually speak. They know all the grammar rules, extensive vocab, and are fine listening in on a conversation, but when it comes to actually communicating, they get stuck. This reflects that they have only learnt passively, and haven’t been given or embraced the opportunity to actively use the language.

Being able to communicate effectively, whether written or verbal, is a two-way street. You’ll be so much more efficient if you practice active and passive learning equally. Don’t expect to become fluent just by sitting on your arse playing Duolingo. Go out of your way to get in touch with a native speaker, and speak to them! The chances are you’ll be able to help them with their English in return. Exchange Trump articles in your respective languages, bond over your festering hatred.

Third, old habits die hard. Don’t set yourself up for setbacks down the road; make an effort to master correct pronunciations from the beginning. The best way to pick up proper pronunciation is by listening carefully and mimicking, in the same way we learn our mother tongue as kids.  It’s also important to actively correct yourself aloud when you recognise that you’ve made a mistake, so as to imprint the sounds in your memory.

To a native speaker, it doesn’t matter how broad and sophisticated your vocabulary is if your pronunciation is rubbish. Nobody will take you seriously if you can’t pronounce paella. The same goes for accents. Somebody once asked me if I thought written accents were important. I asked him, “¿tienes 22 años o tienes 22 anos?” One means, ‘are you 22 years old?’ while the other means ‘do you have 22 anuses?’.

Speak with as many people as possible, as much as possible. Repeat conversations, however trivial they may be. Repetition is key. Tell every one of your classmates about your difficulty finding a park. Offer to be the one to order the beers at Oktoberfest – no matter how sloppy you get you’ll always be the master at demanding “mehr Bier bitte!”

Moreover, let those you speak with know you’re not going to be offended when they correct your mistakes. Most people hold back from correcting foreign speakers’ mistakes because they still understand what we want to say. This is all well and good until you realise you’ve just told a 9-year old, “tu vas te coucher bien ce soir” (you’ll f**k well tonight) instead of you’ll sleep well tonight; or asked them “bist du kalt?” (literally translated as are you cold? but interpreted in German as are you dead?).

Lastly, don’t hit a plateau. Once you’re at a stage where you still make mistakes but can effectively communicate in day-to-day life, you’re at a pivotal point. Upon realising we can get our point across without too much hassle, most people become lazy, losing the motivation to improve. If it’s become too comfortable, you’re doing something wrong. So speak more, read more, watch more Netflix. Learn how to say merry-go-round; multi-faceted; occultism.  Go to a foreign country and get lost within the culture, and convince your grandma that there’s never been a better time.  

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Student Affairs

Trigger Warnings: Paramount or Pandering

Trigger Warnings (Jesse Thomas)

 

In a time where the tension between the politically correct progressives and conservatives is at a high, one issue that may not immediately come to mind is trigger warnings. So, what even are trigger warnings? Are they just a meme, an overused joke of how sensitive and wrapped up in cotton wool our society has become? Or are these warnings legitimate tools that are essential for allowing those who have experienced trauma to avoid further distress by being prepared for or choosing to not engage with something potentially emotionally or mentally detrimental.

Monash has become the first University in Australia to implement a “trigger warnings” policy. This involves a “pilot program” of 15 of Monash’s course outlines to contain warnings of potentially emotionally distressing content. The topics of this content ranging from the discussion of sexual assault, violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide and the list goes on. Although this program is seen by many as progressive, to others this initiative is seen as unnecessary and even harmful. Trigger warnings are nothing new or innovative, originating on Internet forums and communities to warn mostly people with post-traumatic-stress disorder about potentially harmful content.  These warnings give people the choice whether to engage or not with material that could be distressing.

A mere warning to help those who struggle or have experienced trauma feel safe doesn’t sound completely irrational and outrageous, right? Well apparently is does, according to many giving backlash against this motion. Those against this implementation, have the sentiment that “life is potentially inevitably, [and] regularly emotionally distressing, “as stated by Newscastle University associate professor, Marguerite Johnson. To her and many others in opposition to the movement, having warnings before traumatic materials means that universities and educators are simply not preparing students for the real world. There are no trigger warnings in “real everyday life” and if students can’t cope with these issues cropping up in course material, it will just make it worse for them when they come into contact with these issues spontaneously through unfiltered experiences in life outside the classroom. Additionally, there are fears of censorship and the loss of freedom of speech due to “triggering” controversial materials being hidden away from students, or having the option of opting out of these topics, discouraging freedom of inquiry and expression, and discussion about controversial topics.

These reasons seem well meaning, however if “trigger warnings” did have the potential to destroy, censor and hide all intellectual and educational nuance as we know it, why has a similar warning system been widely accepted and non-controversial for decades? We have “warnings” before TV shows and movies in the form of advisory ratings, from G to PG all the way to R 18+. Advisory warnings are important in making sure media that contains potentially inappropriate topics (sexual themes, nudity, violence etc.) does not get consumed by those too young or who would otherwise prefer not to. These warnings are an accepted part of our culture, so why is it so hard and even offensive to accept similar warnings before classes or readings, a brief “advisory” rating that means no more than an MA 15+ rating stating “coarse language, parental guidance recommended.”

At the end of the day, whether you agree with trigger warnings or not, you have to stop and think; do they really affect you? Just a sentence or two at the start of a reading for your unit or a few words of warning from a lecturer before they dive into a class. Trigger warnings do not equate to censorship or selective teaching, to stem the flow of information and education to youths, and stop the promotion of discussion and debate. Rather, their sole purpose is merely to serve as a polite “hey you might not want to read/hear this if…” or “look away/prepare yourself for this topic”, a simple quick heads-up. Trigger warnings are not censorship, to pander or coddle easily offended millennials, but to allow individuals to have a choice in the material they engage with, to decide the best course of action for their own personal mental or emotional health, not yours.

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